New Jersey remains among the least affordable states in the nation for renters, with a minimum wage worker having to work 96 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment, a new report found. (Fran Baltzer for New Jersey Monitor)
New Jersey remains among the least affordable states in the nation for renters, with a minimum-wage worker having to work 96 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Temporary housing aid put in place during the pandemic — emergency rental assistance and eviction moratoriums — helped the state’s poorest residents stay housed, but didn’t erase the entrenched gap between what people must earn to afford rent and what they actually earn, said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey, which announced the findings Thursday during a press briefing.
New Jersey ranks No. 7 nationally in rental affordability, with a renter needing to earn $31.32 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at a fair market price, the report found.
“It is not a top 10 list that any state wants to be on,” Berger said.
Inflation and escalating apartment rents keep safe, affordable housing out of reach for thousands of New Jerseyans, said Arnold Cohen, the network’s senior policy adviser.
“What you have is people working hard, doing all they can for their family, and they are still faced with a very difficult decision of where they spend their dollars — on food, clothing, keeping a roof over their heads,” Cohen said. “People who are working full time shouldn’t have to face those kinds of difficult decisions.”
Tanika Moss of Paterson said she’s had ongoing trouble finding an affordable apartment.
“Just trying to find an apartment that you can afford in a safe area to raise your children seems like almost equivalent to walking on the moon,” Moss said. “The prices are out of control, and the ones that you can afford are in the scariest parts of town.”
The findings show policymakers must expand rental assistance, Berger and Cohen said.
Federal housing assistance is available now to just one in four households eligible for it, they said. In New Jersey, only 4,000 people will receive rental assistance from the state, officials recently said — that’s less than 5% of the 86,000 who applied.
Berger applauded Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan, announced in March, to use $305 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars to construct affordable housing units. She also welcomed the state’s $170 million commitment to remediate lead paint in older apartments and homes statewide.
But much more remains to be done, she said.
New Jersey officials should make it easier for renters to apply for both housing and rental assistance and see where they are on wait lists by creating a centralized application, she said. A bill on streamlining the process passed in the Senate last year but failed to advance in the Assembly. A bipartisan group of legislators introduced it again earlier this year.
Just trying to find an apartment that you can afford in a safe area to raise your children seems like almost equivalent to walking on the moon. – Tanika Moss
Just trying to find an apartment that you can afford in a safe area to raise your children seems like almost equivalent to walking on the moon.
– Tanika Moss
Berger also urged policymakers to act to reform apartment application processes that can require apartment-seekers to rack up fees for criminal background checks with no guarantee they’ll get the housing they seek.
“It’s really both Byzantine and also seems predatory — charging folks for apartments they may never even step foot in,” Berger said.
Moss added: “Thirty-five dollars doesn’t seem like a lot to try to move into an apartment. But when you have to pay $35 seven, eight, nine, 10 times, that money adds up. It could be going toward your house, gas prices, groceries, all of these things that we still have to take care of.”
And landlords should be prohibited from considering credit scores when evaluating prospective tenants, Berger added. Several Democratic legislators introduced a bill on this in January.
Thirty-six percent of New Jersey residents rent, adding up to nearly 1.2 million rental households statewide, according to the report.
Hudson, Essex, and Passaic counties lead the state in renters, with 68%, 56%, and 48% of residents, respectively, renting there. At the same time, the counties have among the state’s highest apartment rents, with the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment costing $1,972 a month in Hudson County; $1,479 a month in Essex; and $1,736 a month in Passaic, according to the report.
The state’s five most expensive metropolitan areas for renters are Jersey City, Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon, Bergen-Passaic, Trenton, and Monmouth-Ocean. In those areas, renters need to make $30 to $38 an hour to afford rent. Housing advocates regard rent as unaffordable if it costs more than 30% of a renter’s income.
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