Tiny Houses Are A Big Step Toward Making NJ Homes Affordable

Pare down the square footage from 2,300, say, to 300. Furnish the basics: sinks, bathroom facilities, kitchen appliances. Then build enough of these so-called "tiny homes" to ease the housing burden that has left at least 8,500 of our state's residents without shelter.

That's the goal of a program two Democratic state senators are pushing to provide at least a partial solution to New Jersey's affordable housing crisis.

Sens. Troy Singleton (Burlington) and Brian Stack (Hudson) hope their three-year pilot program can capitalize on a national trend that has potential buyers or renters forgoing McMansions in favor of more compact living spaces.

And by compact, we mean the size of a one-car garage ... or smaller.

Perry Shaw, chairman of the Mercer County Reentry Task Force, believes the project could help several populations, including homeless veterans, ex-felons who have served their time and are returning to society, and young adults who are being frozen out by the state's soaring home-rental prices.

Stack and Singleton are looking to federal funds to underwrite the building process, which they say would be administered by the state's Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency and run about $5 million.

The agency would choose the municipalities, making sure they represent all parts of the state; as an incentive, participating municipalities would receive grants for the housing, as well as two credits toward their affordable housing obligations for every tiny unit they erect.

Last month, the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee unanimously approved the bill, S-177. But don't hire a moving van quite yet. We've been here before.

In December of 2016, the same bill cleared the same committee, but it died when members of the Senate Budget Committee failed to come on board.

But the need for a remedy didn't die with it.

We live in the sixth most expensive state in the nation, according to the National Income Housing Coalition and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. In plain terms, that means too many renters can't afford an average studio apartment without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

The Singleton/Stack bill is far from a done deal. Among other obstacles is the existence of zoning laws which require minimum square footage for homes that is greater than the tiny homes envisioned.

There's also the dreaded NIMBY effect: Not in My Back Yard, thank you. We saw that in Tuckerton in 2016, when officials nixed a proposal by an organization to build 10 micro-houses when residents of two nearby developments objected.

If lawmakers eventually pass this measure, they'll have to start selling it hard to convince a dubious populace that these small houses present a viable answer to a huge problem. We hope they succeed.

Original Article