NJ lawmakers propose new solution for rising rent

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NEW JERSEY (PIX11) -- A New Jersey lawmaker is proposing legislation that would build tiny houses for the homeless and low income residents. The tiny single-family homes are typically under 200 square feet and can cost only a few thousand dollars. ​

"It's a great place to have homeless, to take them off the streets," said State Senator Ray Lesniak, "And for low income folks who just can't afford the housing, the high cost of living in New Jersey."

Lesniak wants to see the "tiny house movement" help with the lack of affordable housing in New Jersey. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a family must earn $24.92/hour to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in New Jersey.

Bayonne resident Mirna Zapata is only able to afford her apartment with the help of a volunteer group, United Way. Prior to this, Zapata used to call a homeless shelter in Hoboken home.

When asked if she would have considered a tiny house, Zapata replied, "I think as long as I have some roof over my head, and I'm able to have some sort of living situation, I'm grateful."

But not all the formerly homeless think tiny houses are a good idea. Parsippany resident Valerie Fox called the idea discriminatory. "I think it's very demeaning!" said Fox, "Would you want to live like that?" Fox affords her current apartment by using vouchers issued by Morris County.

Waiting lists for vouchers and public housing are common throughout the state, according to associates with Monarch Housing. Monarch is a non-profit with a mission to help people get into affordable housing. The group says a recent housing lottery for new affordable apartments in Edison drew 5-times as many applications as available units.

"We have municipalities willing to donate land, vacant lots, to build these homes," said Sen. Lesniak. But supporters of the bill may face an uphill battle in urban areas.

"When I talked to the folks in Hudson County they said not here, not now, because of the cost of land," said Joan Quigley, CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corporation. Quigley's group provides emergency housing assistance to people at risk of homelessness.

The tiny housing bill has been introduced in the New Jersey Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. Lesniak says he hopes to raise $5 million dollars in donations from the private sector to build dozens, or even hundreds of tiny homes.