New Jersey is an expensive state, with the fifth highest cost of living in the U.S., according to investment adviser Motley Fool. That’s understandable considering it also has the nation’s second highest median household income of $80,088. Unfortunately, that figure is much lower in South Jersey.
Some people, especially those seeking to help homeless veterans, would like to reduce one of the main costs by making it possible to live in what are called “tiny homes,” code-compliant dwellings of 400 square feet or less that are trendy in other parts of America. But efforts to build them in New Jersey have been thwarted, sometimes by neighbors, and bills that would provide regulatory guidance on their construction and use — or even create a Tiny Home Pilot Project — have stalled in the state Legislature.
South Jersey, whose tourism economy boasts the majority of private campgrounds in the state, historically offered a precursor to the tiny home movement. If the campground owners were willing, people formerly could live in a mobile home or what is known as a “park model trailer” — transportable, but meant for long-term or permanent placement.
The lower expense of this living arrangement was part of its undoing. Since education is responsible for the lion’s share of New Jersey’s highest in the nation property taxes, municipalities rightfully objected to families living in campgrounds, sending their children to local schools and avoiding much of the cost of their education.
Even after municipalities passed ordinances to prevent year-round living in campgrounds, they had to remain vigilant to ensure they were being followed.
In 1992, Middle Township had to deny an operating license to Hideaway Beach Campground and go to court to get its owner to do what was needed to ensure it closed in winter — install double gates across the entrance, turn off the water to campsites and facilities, inspect the campground daily and immediately start eviction proceedings against anyone found living there.
In 2009, the state standardized the matter by limiting residency at seasonal facilities to six months. That hit more than 60 residents at Carol Lynn Resort in Woodbine, some of whom had lived there year-round for more than 20 years. After they appealed to then-state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, the state Department of Community Affairs grandfathered existing park-model trailers at campgrounds in the state, leaving them to comply with local ordinances on residency.
This year, another contingent of formerly happy campers has to find other, legal homes. About 45 people living at Egg Harbor River Campground have until Nov. 1 to leave. Some said the campground owner led them to believe they could live there year-round, and the township fined him $10,000 after he pleaded guilty to violating its ordinance barring daily campground occupation from Nov. 1 through March 1.
Some of the Egg Harbor River Campground residents said they had lived there 17 years, and others said they considered it their starter home.
Maybe someday that could be possible, if tiny homes get traction in New Jersey, with its perennial lack of affordable housing. But for now, a legal starter home in the state costs $174,200, according to Business Insider and Zillow, the 15th highest price for one in nation.
No wonder many have left this state for others where jobs may not pay as much but are more plentiful, and costs including housing are much lower.