Homeowners in Vail and Corona see relatively high values when compared to the greater Tucson area. Corona homeowners average around $209,400 for their house. Homeowners in Vail average $302,000 of value per house. Among the hundreds of available homes for sale, there are numerous property amenities to choose from that range from private pools, golf course communities, gated neighborhoods, and even horse acreage for homesites.
Mixed within these high home values are working professionals that seek to live in homes while also trying to make ends meet. Lower paid professionals see firsthand the lack of affordable housing. There are no apartments, town homes, or condominiums for people to live in.
Teachers, church leaders, social workers, and culinary art professionals consist of a few of the very lowest paying professional jobs in our area. The Vail School District is the largest employer in the area, employing 1,600 teachers and support staff. Not many will argue that our teachers are critical to our community. However, with the starting teacher salary at $35,981 per year, owning or renting a home in Vail is out of the question.
Most financial planners calculate that no more than 28% of a gross salary should go toward a mortgage. Finding reasonable housing options around Vail and Corona in the $700-800 range is a severe challenge.
I spoke with a teacher who is struggling to make ends meet in the Vail School District. Her story is no different than many others. The teacher did not want to use her real name, so I will call her Sue. Currently, Sue is renting in an apartment complex in Tucson that is one of the closest to her school. However, she still has about a 9 mile drive each way to work. The worst part of Sue’s situation is her salary to rent percentage. “It’s sad to me. I am spending about 58% of my salary on rent,” Sue reluctantly admitted. “I am not saving money. I can’t make a down payment on anything. After my rent is paid, my food bill, and expenses for my car, I have nothing left,” Sue added. Further compounding Sue’s issues as a college educated working professional is that she is not able to pay off any of her college debt.
Are county policies stifling higher density living in Vail and Corona? Pima County governs itself with a document titled Pima Prospers. This 500-page document outlines how the county will grow by ensuring all levels of county government work together to encourage development. I spoke with a county spokesperson from Development Services who explained, “The county does not prohibit land owners from building higher density housing in properly zoned areas.” Referencing the Pima Prospers document, he added, “As long as the higher density housing is compatible with the plan, then it would be approved.”
The Vail School District has recently recognized the shortage of low cost housing for its teachers and staff. The associate superintendent, John Carruth, has been leading a committee since last May to determine if lower cost housing options are a possibility in the district. In the next 4-6 months, the district is moving ahead with plans for ‘tiny houses’ where district employees can live. “The committee is looking at getting the cost of housing to around $500 per month, with the land lease (for each unit) around $100 per month. All utilities and internet would be included,” John said. “We are looking at 400 square foot homes that would be in the $55-60k price range. Initially, we are planning 20-25 units to see how it goes before we expand,” according to Carruth.
The school district is not the only large employer in the area facing these challenges. Near Interstate 10 and Rita Road, the University of Arizona Tech Park has also recognized a shortage of affordable housing for resident workers. With around 6,000 employees and visitors to the Tech Park, last year the Board of Regents sent out a request for proposal for developers to submit their plans for housing, community development, and even possibly hotels on the site of Tech Park. Within the next month, the Tech Park will likely make the announcement of who the developer will be along with the specific plans.
Until these affordable units are built locally, working professionals will continue to struggle to find local affordable housing. It is only their positive attitudes and work ethic that keeps them pushing on in their careers. And that brings us back to Sue, the teacher who is working full time, but ends up each month with near nothing in discretionary income. “I know I am not in this job for the money. Teaching greatly outweighs anything else I could be doing. I don’t have any money, but I know I am making a difference for my students.”