Tiny homes, huge impact

Vail, Arizona, a tiny town about half an hour southeast of Tucson, with a population of about 10,000, is making a huge impact by way of tiny homes for its schools’ teachers who drive in from Tucson.

A new plan, supported by local investors, has been put in motion to build a community of tiny homes specifically for teachers who work in Vail’s schools. Since the median housing cost hovers around $260,000, according to Zillow, (compared to $230,00 in Phoenix), homeownership is arguably out of range for educators. With that in mind, most educators in the school district find living more affordable, and available, in nearby Tucson. But this means teachers have to spend time and money for transportation.

The school district answered the call and created a planned community of a couple dozen tiny houses, ranging between 300-600 square feet. The homes, which are portable, sit within the boundary of Vail school district’s land. Simple and quaint, the homes feature the basics like bedroom, kitchen, living room and bathroom. Teachers who decide to buy or rent the units gain an interesting landlord: their school district.

“Someone in a meeting brought up the idea of tiny houses. We laughed at first but we thought, well, wait a minute. Maybe we’re on to something,” says John Carruth, Associate Superintendent of Vail Unified School District. “We quickly identified with our group that there are two main issues that are pertinent to our teachers: quality, affordable housing and a sense of community.”

The lowest rent for a house in Vail goes for $1,200–and that’s the lowest end of the rent spectrum. The tiny homes, on the other hand, go for about $700 with $125 of that mortgage going toward leasing the land, utilities and Internet.

This project is among other teacher-supportive programs around the country. In more unreasonably priced areas such as Silicon Valley, some school districts have started building teacher-and-staff-only housing that’s affordable. But Vail is the first to promote houses instead of apartment complexes, giving the teacher tenants more privacy in comparison.

Nearby Tucson touts an average home price of $180,000 and a more abundant rental community than the highway town of Vail, so it makes more sense in terms of finances and options for teachers. But the Vail tiny home project plans to keep teachers nearby on its five-acre site, which will also feature a co-working space and a thrift shop.

“I’m often asked why we’re doing this. I’m asked if it’s because of affordable housing or teacher shortages, and my response to both of those things is yes.”

States around the country, including Arizona, are doing more to attract and retain high quality  teachers, implementing salary increases, performance bonuses, training, and now providing housing.

For now, Carruth and the rest of the Vail School District are not trying to solve all the issues within the entire state’s education system. The main goal here is just to provide teachers an opportunity to live affordably, comfortably, and not have something else to worry about.

We want to have the highest quality and most attentive teachers with young people in our district. We’re trying to create a community within a community here,” adds Carruth.

Nick Esquer

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