New Jersey’s real estate market has failed to provide enough affordable housing, and the state’s cities are burdened by derelict and abandoned properties.
Tiny houses — minimalist homes of 400 square feet or less — could be part of the effort to address these deficiencies while helping citizens in need. State and local officials need to remove obstacles, or even provide some help, to this promising little development.
Community Harvesters Church in Atlantic City is the latest organization to see the potential of tiny houses. After successfully replacing a Sandy-damaged dwelling with a 384-square-foot house it rents out, the congregation launched its Seeds of Hope program seeking to build five more soon and eventually another 12.
The Rev. Alexander Clarence Smith sees multiple benefits — using vacant lots, eliminating urban blight and putting properties back on city tax rolls while helping people in need.
The Atlantic County Institute of Technology, whose students have assisted on Habitat for Humanity homes, is working with the church’s architect in preparation for helping build the tiny houses.
Making tiny homes real property in New Jersey has been difficult so far. An effort to build 10 of them for homeless veterans in Tuckerton, for example, was rejected by officials in 2016 after residents living near the site objected to them.
Operation Safe Haven, a project of Amazing Grace Ministries in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, is building 300-square-foot houses for homeless vets and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A few years of effort got three built and one occupied as of early last year.
The difficulties don’t make sense given the state’s court-ordered need to add tens of thousands of affordable homes soon.
Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center that helped establish state affordable housing goals, has called small houses “a really inexpensive way to house people in a state where housing is way too expensive” and “one approach of many that can increase the base supply of homes that are affordable.”
Some legislators are trying to help.
A bill cleared the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee this month that would let municipalities lease vacant municipal land for tiny homes and direct the Department of Community Affairs to provide regulatory guidance on their construction and use.
Another bill, currently languishing in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, would create a $5 million Tiny Home Pilot Project that would award funds to a handful of municipalities throughout the state to build and rent homes to people with incomes of less than 30 percent of the median for their area.
The New Jersey State League of Municipalities has supported that approach, which would allow towns to suspend their zoning laws to make tiny houses possible.
These efforts and one’s like them deserve a chance to succeed and start to help solve some of the state’s intractable problems.