District considers tiny house solution for teacher housing

District considers tiny house solution for teacher housing

(Colo.) Providing affordable housing for teachers has proven difficult throughout the country, but one Colorado district has begun to consider the idea of developing tiny houses as a possible solution.

Tiny houses range from between 100 square feet and 400 square feet and are characterized by an extremely efficient use of space. Not surprisingly, due to their small size, such properties are highly cost-efficient, particularly in regions with difficult housing markets.

“We live in a resort community, and as is the case in many similar communities, the availability and affordability of housing for people who live and work here full-time is a huge issue, especially for a young individual working as a teacher,” Tom Braun, land planning consultant for the Eagle County School District, which sits about 100 miles west of Denver, said in an interview.

“Tiny homes are very popular and have seen a fairly accelerated growth rate across the country, and this could be a part of the solution,” he explained. “There’s a lot of interest and excitement about the potential for the tiny house options.”

A lack of affordable housing is increasingly an issue for employers in many fast-growing parts of the country including schools and has been determined to be a contributing factor in the national teacher shortage. Common solutions at the state-level include providing financial assistance to teachers looking for homes in the neighborhoods closer to their schools, but some districts have proposed various fixes as well.

In Missouri, one district will convert an abandoned elementary school into as many as 45 affordable apartments for faculty. And in California last year, lawmakers introduced a bill that would have provided $100 million to help school districts take similar steps to build housing for teachers.

Other cities in Colorado, including Aspen and Denver, have also begun discussing how to alleviate the struggle teachers in these areas have in finding housing near their districts. In Eagle County, surveys of educators who either left the district or turned down a job offer over the last three years found that the high cost of housing was a main factor in approximately 40 percent of teachers’ decisions to leave. Additionally, between 25 percent and 30 percent of those offered jobs in the district turned down the offer because of local housing costs.

“The district sees challenges in both retention of teachers as well as recruiting, and the problem is becoming more acute due to the nationwide teacher shortage,” Braun said. “Very capable applicants for a teaching job will come and visit and decide they don’t like the housing choices for what they can afford, so they move on.”

The district currently has an agreement with the town of Minturn to build up to 120 units within an approximately 14-acre section of Maloit Park, Braun said, but the plan is still in its earliest stage.

Tammy Schiff, spokesperson for the district, said officials must still survey the more than 500 district teachers to see what their housing needs are and determine how to best help. So far, other options include developing townhouses or small, single-family homes that would still be affordable for educators. According to Schiff, the plan is more likely to include some combination of housing options.

Schiff said that the district has received some blowback from some outside of the community who contend that higher wages would solve the problem, but noted that the district recently provided a significant 12 percent pay raise thanks to a local tax increase that makes salaries comparable to metro areas of the state.