Tiny House Movement Seen as a Way to Increase Affordable Housing

By Candace Kelley

Big homes and big mortgages. Many New Jersyeans are spending half of their paychecks to keep a roof over their head. Enter the Tiny House Movement. The average size of these stand alone homes is 200 to 300 square feet. Advocates and politicians see them as a way to fight homelessness and shorten affordable housing wait lists.

“Small isn’t a bad word,” said Dan McGuire.

McGuire is the housing director at Morristown-based Homeless Solutions, the largest provider of shelter and homeless solutions in Morris County. Their waiting list for one-bedroom affordable units? Three to five years.

“A smaller version of quality homes, particularly for smaller households I think, single persons, homeless people, couples would be a particular good application of tiny homes,” McGuire said.

Sen. Ray Lesniak proposed a bill calling for a $5 million, three-year tiny house pilot program that would award grants to dot north, central and south Jersey with clusters of micro homes and micro apartments — apartments that are no larger than 300 square feet.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a New Jerseyan must make almost $25 an hour to afford a two-bedroom fair market rent apartment, without paying more than 30 percent of their income for rent.

The Tiny House Movement is already afoot in states including California, Colorado and Minnesota. While much of the talk has been about the size of these little homes, what’s on the inside is also important.

“It’s also about layout and the quality of the finishing inside and the quality of the construction,” said McGuire.

Boonton’s “Chestnut Street Cottages” could be an indicator that smaller living could be largely well-received. The Housing Authority built 14 663-square-foot homes in 1967. Those who live here pay 30 percent of their household income.

The Tiny House Pilot Program legislation could shift someone’s $1,500 rent to $500 and McGuire notes there may be another reason to bring similar groups together.

“To cluster the users, the residents in a certain area, and that’s easier to provide the social services,” McGuire said.

Tiny house talk is something McGuire says won’t be going away anytime soon.

“I think people are moving away, even people of more means are moving away from McMansions,” he said.

Lesniak says he is gathering research for interested private investors to get the legislation to the governor’s desk by June.