Bill Would Create Tiny House Pilot Program for Homeless

By Michael Hill

A homeless encampment on Howell Township property, about 10 men and women living in tents. They have a community food pantry, a community bike and a chapel.

“We use this as an area for people to gather and they can eat in here, drink coffee in here. We’ve got these propane space heaters,” said Steve Brigham, president and founder of Destiny’s Bridge.

But, before you get the “home of the homeless,” there’s a tiny house with a big potential to solve one of New Jersey’s most nagging issues. It’s a little more than 100 square feet with the necessities of a kitchen, sleeping arrangements and bathroom with a shower.

“There’s a lot to work with, a lot of square footage to work with. It’s smaller but it’s just better for the ecology. There’s so many reasons why a tiny home is good — less resources being used to heat it, less electricity, just so many things that are good for our world and our society,” said Brigham.

A bill making its way through the state Senate would create three tiny house pilot programs in New Jersey to house the homeless as prices continue to keep housing unaffordable to so many.

“Anything we can do to ease that and help our fellow American citizens is a wonderful thing,” Brigham said.

Plenty of New Jersey towns have resisted building affordable housing. The bill — co-sponsored by Sen. Ray Lesniak — would double a town’s per unit credits toward meeting their Mount Laurel “fair share” obligation.

“That will be an incentive as well,” Lesniak said. “But one would hope and think that municipal officials will want to help to homeless folks.”

Attorney Jeff Wild welcomes it. He’s the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness.

“Tiny homes should be a no-brainer. People who oppose tiny homes perhaps they have never seen them, but they are an asset to every community. They are part of the most logical solution to end homelessness and their time will come,” Wild said.

Howell Township says it’s open to the idea of tiny houses in the township, so long as state law allows it. In the meantime, it says it accepts a small encampment on city property.

“I think that Howell Township is just trying to show some compassion and balance it with the responsibility of running a responsible government. Again, like I said, it’s recognized by all involved that this is a temporary arrangement right now,” said Howell Township Manager Jeff Mayfield.

For now, there’s a ceiling on how many residents Howell will allow to live here as affordable housing advocates watch what lawmakers and the governor can do about sheltering the homeless.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.