Tiny houses can’t get respect from state and local officials in New Jersey. So far.
They may be growing in popularity in much of the rest of America, as seen in TV shows such as “Tiny House Nation,” “Tiny House Hunters” and “Tiny House, Big Living.” But in New Jersey, they’re prohibited by a combination of zoning, construction codes and vested interests in building, selling and renting larger and more expensive homes.
Even an effort to build 10 of them for homeless veterans was rejected by Tuckerton officials in 2016 after residents living near the site objected to it, according to NJ Spotlight.
During the summer, though, a proposal to try tiny houses as a housing solution for homeless and extremely low-income state residents started moving in the Legislature. It deserves to become law and given a chance to help address one of the state’s intractable problems.
The bill would create a $5 million Tiny Home Pilot Project that would award funds to one or two municipalities each in the southern, northern and central parts of the state to build houses no bigger than 300 square feet. That’s about one-eighth of the typical 2,300-square-foot Northeast home.
The tiny houses would be available for rent to people with incomes of less than 30 percent of the median for their area. Statewide that would be no more than $20,000 but even less in lower income South Jersey.
The pilot program would run for three years, overseen by the N.J. Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. Municipalities would apply to build a specific number of tiny houses to be available at an estimated rent. The agency would help with rental assistance and other programs to ensure they are affordable.
The need for such out-of-the-big-box solutions is obvious. As of last year, New Jersey has more than 8,500 homeless people. The state Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel doctrine requires all communities to provide their fair share of homes for people with limited incomes. This year, two Superior Court judges figured New Jersey needs to build 155,000 affordable housing units in the next seven years.
The Tiny Home Pilot Project would offer municipalities an incentive — each tiny house they build would earn them two credits toward their affordable-housing obligation.
Area people can check out a couple of tiny houses at an Egg Harbor Township campground, where they are being used as seasonal-only dwellings. The Egg Harbor River Resort eventually hopes to host 60 tiny vacation homes.
The pilot program bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee at the start of summer. Last month, the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee approved the same bill.
Now it’s in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, where it died in 2016. The panel should let it advance and become law this time, so the state can see if tiny houses could be part of the answer to an affordable housing problem that has just gotten worse and worse for decades.