Tiny houses could be the answer to N.J. housing problems
Two legislators think they have a small solution to a big problem in New Jersey: helping homeless veterans find shelter through a "tiny homes" pilot program.
A bill proposing the pilot program is making its way through the Senate and is sponsored by senators Brian Stack (D-Hudson) and Troy Singleton (D-Burlington). They hope the new effort can be a prototype for helping homeless veterans and the indigent to find shelter and help municipalities meet legal obligations to provide affordable housing.
Tiny houses are typically made up of one room with lofted or pull-out bed, and all the amenities one would need in a house (kitchen, sink, bathroom) but just condensed in a way to maximize the minimalistic space. They're sometimes on wheels. A spacious tiny house would be about the size of an average one-car suburban garage, though they could be as small as a tool shed. And they can sell for as little as a few thousand dollars -- not including land.
"You can't house families there but it's an important source of housing that's a wonderful way to incentivize because it's a really inexpensive way to house people in a state where housing is way too expensive," said Kevin Walsh, executive director of Fair Share Housing Center, whose founder Peter O'Connor brought a 1974 lawsuit in Mount Laurel that established affordable housing laws in New Jersey. "This is one approach of many that can increase the base supply of homes that are affordable in the state."
The new measure -- similar to one that stalled in the legislature in 2014 -- reflects a national movement of people who want to live in tiny houses, which are typically from 100 to 400 square feet. The average house size in the United States was 2,392 square feet in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.
The three-year program would be administered by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) and cost $5 million. Stack and Singleton expect federal funds to pay for the pilot program. The HMFA would pick which towns participate in three regions of the state. Towns that participate would receive grants for the housing and two-for-one credits towards their affordable housing obligations.
One of the obstacles to this type of housing often is local zoning laws which require minimum square-footage in excess of the size of most tiny homes.
Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, supported the earlier bill because it would not attempt to force towns to change their zoning to accommodate the housing, but allow them to suspend their own zoning laws voluntarily. The current measure includes the same language.
"It's another tool that we can use to address the homeless housing need, and at the same time it's another way of addressing our affordable housing needs overall," Dressel previously told NJ Advance Media.
Kent Pipes, a former Presbyterian minister and president of a non-profit affordable housing development company, is pushing for a mini housing community in Burlington Township, Burlington County but has run into zoning hurdles.
"Unless I can get a building permit, nobody can live in it," he previously told NJ Advance Media after the first bill stalled.