Housing costs in New Jersey require someone to have an annual income of nearly $70,000, or a $33.50 hourly wage, if they don't want to spend more than 30% of their pay on utilities and rent. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
A New Jersey resident making the minimum wage would have to work 95 hours a week to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home, according to a new report analyzing housing costs nationwide.
Only in six other states would someone have to work more hours to afford rent at fair market value, the National Low Income Housing Coalition says in its annual “Out of Reach” report.
The report says the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey is now $1,742, which requires someone to have an annual income of nearly $70,000, or a $33.50 hourly wage, if they don’t want to spend more than 30% of their pay on utilities and rent. The minimum wage in New Jersey is $14.13.
“The idea that you have to earn over $30 an hour to rent a two-bedroom apartment that is not fancy — that’s a huge economic problem for the future of our state and it’s a very big crisis for our low-income neighbors,” said Staci Berger, president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, a statewide housing advocacy organization.
The report defines affordability using what it calls a “housing wage.” That’s the hourly amount a worker must earn to afford a two-bedroom rental home at fair-market value without spending more than 30% of their income on rent.
The national housing wage is $28.58, the report says. The states where the housing wage is higher are California at No. 1, followed by Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, plus Washington, D.C.
The report cites Jersey City as the Garden State’s most expensive metro area, saying its housing wage is $40.15, while Vineland-Bridgeton is the least expensive, with a housing wage of $28.29.
Berger noted there’s been a “dramatic increase” in rent around the country, so the housing wage for most states is higher than it was in 2022.
New Jersey’s housing wage has increased $2 per hour from last year, or about $5,000 annually, the report says. New Jersey’s ranking has not changed from last year’s report.
More than a third of New Jersey’s housing units are occupied by renters — an estimated 1.2 million people.
Last year, housing advocates applauded pandemic-era assistance that helped keep renters in their homes, but those programs have lapsed. Plus, they noted, inflation has contributed to higher rents, and although rent costs have stabilized in some markets, affordable housing remains out of reach for low-income households, they said.
“People just simply cannot find a place to live that they can afford, in so many areas,” Berger said. “So elected officials need to hear from folks, and they need to take action and do things to make the situation better.”
At the Statehouse in Trenton Thursday, housing advocates and activists will hold a roundtable discussion on housing justice, including tenant organizing and homelessness prevention.
Berger pointed to local ordinances being passed that the state should model legislation after, including the right to legal representation for tenants in eviction cases and rent increase restrictions. Jersey City and Newark have both approved new laws that would offer more legal protections to tenants.
The Assembly Housing Committee is also set to meet Thursday, where they will vote on bills to expand a foreclosure prevention program and establish an affordable housing renovation program.
“We have a lot of legislators who care about these issues and want to know what is happening to the most vulnerable residents in their communities, so we’re looking forward to being able to share their stories with people who have the power to make them better,” Berger added.
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