Arizona School District Wants to Build Tiny Homes for Teachers
Hank Stephenson | Arizona Daily Star
New teachers can’t afford to live in full-sized homes within the Vail Unified School District boundaries, so the district is thinking smaller.
In an effort to ensure that teachers can afford to live in the generally well-heeled area that lacks affordable housing options, the Vail School District is looking to build a community of “tiny homes” for teachers.
Tiny homes are essentially minimalist urban homes built on top of flatbed trailers. They’re usually about 300 square feet but maximize space by using lofts, efficient storage and open-air designs that incorporate outdoor space. They’re popular with millennials, hipsters and others looking for a simplified, minimized or ascetic lifestyle.
The district plans to park the new tiny homes on a plot of land it owns and hopes to have at least four available before next school year.
When the site is fully developed, officials hope to build between 20 and 24 tiny homes to accommodate teachers in the district, with the possibility of opening other sites on district-owned land if the program is successful.
Vail Associate Superintendent John Carruth, who is spearheading the effort to get the tiny homes built, said he hopes they will offer new and young teachers — or those looking to downsize and minimize their carbon footprint — a cheap and hip option that will allow them to integrate into the Vail community. And district officials hope the tiny homes will help attract and retain teachers amid a nationwide teacher shortage.
“They’re tiny luxury homes. It feels luxurious, but it’s small. We want them to feel like it’s a cool and unique and honors the teachers and their profession,” he said.
But Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said the idea of offering teachers tiny homes is somewhat insulting — and reflects the overall sad state of teacher pay, especially in Arizona, where teacher salaries are among the lowest in the nation.
“Tiny homes for our tiny salaries,” Thomas quipped.
Thomas described the plan as “somewhere between strange and innovative” and said while he wished it weren’t necessary, Vail’s attempt to ensure teachers have affordable housing within the school district boundaries is commendable.
Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker said while it would be nice to be able to pay teachers enough to buy homes in Vail, that’s simply not a reality for most teachers early in their careers, no matter where they work.
“I think the right way to frame it is not tiny homes versus suburban homes. It’s tiny homes versus small apartments, because that’s where most of us started,” he said.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
The starting base salary for a teacher in Vail is about $36,000, which isn’t enough for single teachers, or families with a teacher as the main breadwinner, to afford housing in Vail, where the median household income is $83,000 and the median home sale price is about $260,000.
And Vail faces a somewhat unique problem — there’s not a single apartment complex anywhere in the district’s 425-square-mile boundary.
But Vail officials hope that what they’re planning will be better than an apartment complex and will inspire a unique community of teachers who want to be a part of Vail’s future.
The costs of tiny homes vary widely, and the district is exploring options in the $45,000 to $70,000 range.