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Why Arizona Is Building Tiny Homes for School Teachers

The state ranks last in the nation for elementary school teacher salaries. For one rural school district, building a tiny-home community for staffers is one way to address the issue.
Elementary school teacher Sydney Scharer lives with her fiancé in a 400-square-foot home owned by the school district.
Elementary school teacher Sydney Scharer lives with her fiancé in a 400-square-foot home owned by the school district.Megan Kimble/CityLab

Sydney Scharer teaches fifth grade at Senita Valley Elementary School in Vail, Arizona, a small but fast-growing community in the Sonoran Desert southeast of Tucson. The Vail School District spans 425 square miles of adobe-style suburban housing developments sprawling amid the stands of saguaro and ocotillo in the foothills of the Rincon and Santa Rita Mountains. According to Zillow, the average home price is $258,600—and there are no apartments located within district boundaries.

“The lowest rent you can find for a house in Vail is $1,200,” Scharer says. In her fifth year of teaching, Scharer makes $38,000 a year. So Scharer lived with her fiancé in a 600-square-foot apartment in Tucson: She paid $850 a month in rent and drove the 25 miles to work every day. “It was the closest thing we could get to Vail and still keep our rent reasonable,” she says.