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New N.J. home idea: little house off the Parkway

posted Dec 14, 2014, 2:39 PM by Sherry Sims

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2014/12/new_nj_home_idea_little_house_on_the_parkway_di_ionno.html

Who hasn’t passed the little cabins on Culver, Swartswood or Hopatcong lakes and thought, “Why not?”

Or driven down the sandy roads of Midway Beach or Ocean Beach 1, 2 or 3, past the neat rows of subcompact bungalows and thought, “Now, that’s the life!”

There is no shortage of tiny homes in New Jersey, but they’re mostly in Pinelands retirement villages. Or they’re second homes “down the Shore” or “up at the lake” waiting for their owners to empty the nest, de-clutter, retire and move in full time.

We didn’t anticipate the enthusiasm for this. Everybody thinks it’s a great idea,” Staci Berger, affordable housing advocate

And, admit it, those of us still tied to kids and their stuff, to our own junk and worn out from maintaining a home covering thousands of square feet, are, at times, a little envious of the people in those little houses.

Ah, the cozy simplicity of it all. A kitchenette, a shower stall, fewer closets for fewer clothes, room only for what you need, not what you have accumulated.

The idea for the “tiny house” pilot program that made news this week is not for downsizers or simplicity seekers. It’s for those in need of a home – the poor, sick, the disabled or elderly -- but the appeal is universal.

“It’s a neat idea; between the changing demographic and the economy, more people are looking for more affordable ways to live,’’ said Staci Berger, the head of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “They realize they don’t need a few thousand square feet to live comfortably.”

Berger was one of the people behind the legislative bill sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) to create a “Tiny Home Pilot Program.”

She emphasized that the program is “for a very small number of homes for a very specific population who have no other option,” meaning the homeless, the disabled, or working people whose income is well below the median for the area.

She’d also like to see the tiny home villages built in a “mix of areas,” that would including rural towns and suburbs.

Under the plan, towns would allow developers to build small houses, either as stand-alone structures or in multiple units for low income housing.

The towns would get credit for two affordable housing units for every tiny house built. The pilot program would cost about $5 million, and although Lesniak introduced it last week, he withdrew it to look for federal funds and grants to pay for it.

The delay will also give the bill more time for public exposure and build momentum.
“We didn’t anticipate the enthusiasm for this,” Berger said. “Everybody thinks it’s a great idea.”

The “tiny homes” in the plan would be no bigger than 300 square feet. That’s about 100 square feet smaller than the two-bedroom FEMA trailers brought to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, but bigger than the 256-square-foot FEMA trailers used in the Gulf Coast after Katrina. A typical “single-wide,” two-bedroom mobile home is about 1,000 square feet, and a double-wide goes up to about 1,700 square feet.

“We didn’t anticipate the enthusiasm for this,” Berger said. “Everybody thinks it’s a great idea.”

Marianne Cusato led the design team that created the “Katrina Cottage,” the aesthetically-pleasing tiny homes used extensively through the Gulf Coast to replace FEMA trailers and replenish the permanent housing stock after the hurricane. She sees the tiny home concept as a solution to housing needs in good times and in times of disaster.

“A dignified society shouldn’t have people living on the street,” she said from South Bend, Ind., where she is teaching at Notre Dame. “A place someone can lock and be warm is an absolute asset in returning their humanity to them.”

But for those who aren’t homeless, she also sees “the great clarity” that comes from simplifying.

“I think there is the notion of the cottage in the woods, or by the seaside, where people envision a simple life,"Cusato said. “You learn to keep the things that are most meaningful, and that have true value in your life.”

This is exactly what Rose Bizzarro did when she moved into her tiny home in a 16-unit complex run by the Boonton Housing Authority, a building within walking distance of a bank, supermarket, pharmacy and diner.

On one table is her late husband's glass tobacco container and round pipe rack. In a corner is his walking stick collection, near the grandfather clock “the phone company” gave her in 1993 when she retired after 30 years of service. Her art collection is on one wall. Her antique furniture is throughout, including a spinning wheel and large canopy bed.

“I took what was most important,” said Bizzarro, 84, who moved from a three-bedroom apartment in Newark’s North Ward. “This is so much easier for me. I don’t have to worry as much.”

The Boonton complex was completed in 1967, an idea ahead of its time, almost a decade before the New Jersey Supreme Court'S Mount Laurel ruling forced suburban towns to build affordable housing.

Each home is 663 square feet, with a bedroom, living room, small kitchen and bathroom.
“It goes to show that people can live well in small places, and in affordable housing,” said Sherry Sims, the executive director of the Boonton authority.

Another Boonton resident, Duane Zadarosni, 57, who is disabled, lived in the town’s high-rise housing complex before moving into his small public assistance house. Before that, he owned a home, but his father’s medical bills made it impossible to keep, especially after he got sick, too.

“It’s more like having an atmosphere of home,” he said. “I have a little patio where I barbecue, and when I go outside, I go out to a lawn, not a hallway. Truthfully, it’s given me a little more self-esteem to be in a house, not in some apartment. It makes you feel more human.”

(Mark Di Ionno: mdiionno@starledger.com)

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