Arizona town building tiny homes for teachers who can't afford to live closer

A school district in Arizona is building a tiny home community for cash-strapped teachers who can’t afford local housing.

The small town of Vail, located about 25 miles southeast of Tucson, has an average home price of $258,000 and no apartments within the 425-square-mile school district, CityLab reports.

This leaves many of the local school teachers, whose salaries range from about $38,000 to $46,000, commuting from Tucson in order to live somewhere they can afford rent.

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“The lowest rent you can find for a house in Vail is $1,200,” Sydney Scharer tells CityLab. Scharer teaches fifth grade at Senita Valley Elementary School and makes $38,000 a year.

The only way to afford rent was for her and her fiancé to live in a 600-sqaure-foot apartment about a 30 minute drive from work for $850 per month. “It was the closest thing we could get to Vail and still keep our rent reasonable,” she said.

But now, thanks to a new housing community, Scharer, and soon others, will be able to live in a neighborhood of two dozen 300- to 400-square-foot homes on district land.

The tiny home community is being built on five acres near what’s set to become the town city center. Scharer and her fiancé just moved into the site’s first tiny home, a one-bedroom, 400-square-foot property she’s renting until her own customized tiny home is complete. On a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, her monthly payments will be about $700 a month.

The homes will be available both for purchase and rent, with the project being supported mostly by local investors. The district is spending $200,000 on infrastructure, and teachers and staff will pay $125 a month to cover the cost of renting the land, which will include utilities and internet, CityLab reports.

John Carruth, the school district’s associate superintendent, told CityLab he acknowledges that the issue is not only limited to housing options, but teachers' salaries. Arizona ranked last in the country for elementary teacher salaries, and 49th for high school, AZ Central reports.

“The best model is to compensate teachers so that they can afford a home like anyone else can,” Joe Thomas, president of Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, told City Lab. “I don’t think it’s any more complex than that.”

“I think it’s a creative approach, but I don’t know if it values the work and the contribution that educators make in the community. Maybe if we can just move away from tiny school budgets,” he said.

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Carruth said the district already contributes 89 percent of its budget to employee salaries and that a 10 percent bump wouldn’t be enough to solve the affordable housing issue. “The majority of our teaching stuff is under 35. They’re dealing with this. We’re trying to solve something we can control,” he said.

Michelle Gant is a writer and editor for Fox News Lifestyle.