Can these “little houses” help reduce homelessness in Newark?
NEWARK, NJ – A group of undergraduate students from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have come up with a “small” solution that could be of great help in alleviating the long-running housing crisis in Newark.
According to their alma mater, the idea came about when Newark city officials contacted professors and students in the NJIT architecture program. The goal? Develop a prototype affordable housing unit that can provide shelter to homeless people.
Their response ? A flexible and “easy to deploy” house that measures only 8 feet by 12 feet.
The project, entirely designed and built by students and faculty, was also inspired by the growing alternative housing movement, which includes the “trendy and Instagrammable phenomena” known as tiny houses.
Small but cozy homes could be a way to harness mass production technology like 3D printing, which is already revolutionizing the way American society creates homes, according to the design team.
More people are homeless in Essex County than in any other part of the state, according to Monarch Housing Associates’ 2021 one-time tally of homeless residents. As in years past, the county led New Jersey in the number of homeless residents with 1,693, or about 21% of the state total. And about 85.9% of people in Essex County live in Newark, the most populous city in the state.
It’s a problem that may be impossible to solve with architecture alone, no matter how sharp it is, according to Erin Pellegrino and Charlie Firestone, adjunct professors at NJIT’s Hillier College of Architecture and Design. But that doesn’t mean they don’t try, the educators added.
“Homelessness is a real and urgent challenge for the world we live in, and our community in Newark has the potential to create meaningful change,” said Firestone.
Christopher Watson, the planning officer for Newark, said access to shelter remains “an issue of equity” nationally, as well as in Brick City. And ideas like NJIT’s tiny houses are a great example of the different approaches the community needs to take to tackle the problem, he added.
Sakinah Hoyte, the city’s homeless czar, asked the design team to consider three “extremely vulnerable groups” who are in need of housing:
- People with disabilities and other health problems
- People who have come together for safety on the streets and who need to be housed together
- People who need shelter from domestic violence and who often have children with them
This is a big request for someone who is still in college. But students like Pramit Khatri say they are up to the challenge.
“I’m inspired by what he stands for, he’s trying to figure out something for the city of Newark,” Khatri said, noting that NJIT’s small houses can be “deployed and easily moved from site to site” .
“There is a lot of stigma surrounding homelessness and I think this is a really worthy way to address it,” Khatri added. “This design is more of a house than a shelter.”
The project received the approval of the mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka.