Vail School District builds tiny home community for struggling teachers

VAIL, Ariz. (KSAZ) - The community of Vail, Arizona has come up with a unique approach to their teacher pay problem, and it involves downsizing.

Sydney Scharer knows her math and teaches it passionately to 5th graders at an Elementary in the Vail School District in southeastern Arizona. But if you do the math, she and many young teachers can't afford to live in the community they teach in.

"That's impossible to do on a teacher's salary," said Scharer.

A fairly new teacher here makes $38,000 a year. Median home prices in Vail, over $260,000. Renting doesn't add up either at $1,200 a month.

The Vail School District knows this is a huge problem.

"Housing, affordable housing, especially for our younger teachers, is an issue and barrier and we're struggling to attract teachers and struggling to retain teachers," said John Carruth, Assistant Superintendent.

At a meeting last may, they did some brainstorming.

"Somebody said what about tiny houses and we kind of chuckled and then we said wait a minute what about tiny houses," said Carruth.

After gauging there was interest from dozens of school employees like Scharer, the district launched the project on five acres of land the district already owned in Vail.

They retain ownership of the property and lease home sites to district employees who buy or rent homes. They've put $200,000 into infrastructure.

Last July Scharer moved into the first tiny house completed by builder Luxtiny Homes.

"It really amazed me when I walked in how big it felt," said Scharer.

Scharer lives here with her fiancee and two dogs. It's two by four construction, fully insulated, 400 square feet, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom with a kitchen area that leads into a living area.

"There's a lot of tiny house jokes," said Scharer. "One of the parents is like field trip to the tiny house. I'm like yeah you'd have to take them in one at a time."

But no one is laughing when they hear what she pays for rent...$550. With utilities and a fee to the district, Scharer pays less than $700 a month total for housing. She is now having a tiny home built next door which she will by. The price is in the mid 60s and the mortgage will be about the same as her rent now.

The plan right now is to build 23 more houses like this in the tiny home community for teachers. There is some pushback from people who say is this really the best way to deal with the teacher salary crunch, by asking teachers to downsize their lifestyle.

"I think in Arizona we are making some progress in the right direction in regard to education funding but for people like Sydney, they need help today, they need something today," said Carruth. "They can't wait so this is our way of offering them a different path."

A different path, a better path for Sydney Scharer. A young teacher who is saving for the future, has her dream job, will soon be surrounded by a community of teachers, and despite her square footage, she's living large.

"I don't call it a tiny house, I call it a small luxury home," said Scharer. "I have full size appliances, I have a big closet, I have a washer and dryer, I have every sort of appliance. I have cable and internet and AC, I have a huge porch. I don't have a tiny house, I have a home."