While it may come as little surprise to families currently struggling to sign new leases, New Jersey’s rental market continues to be among the most expensive in the U.S. — in a country where the gap between workers’ wages and rents is widening nationally, according to nonprofit housing. Group report released on Thursday.
The Garden State — where more than a third of residents rent — is the seventh most expensive, followed by Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, D.C. and Washington state. High Housing Costs,” prepared by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the New Jersey Housing and Community Development Network.
But the numbers in the report may seem low to families looking at Zillow or Apartments.com these days because of last year’s unprecedented rent increase.
Arnold Cohen, senior policy coordinator for the New Jersey Development Network, said: “The picture is much worse than what we see in the data today because inflation is higher than anyone expected. The report analyzed updated U.S. Census data using forecast modeling that adjusted rents at the 40th percentile for inflation in 2020.
According to the report, a full-time worker in New Jersey would need to earn $31.32 an hour to cover the cost of an average two-bedroom apartment at what the federal government considers fair market rent.
Crunching the numbers, though, housing prices in many counties are sky-high, it would take an annual salary of $65,137 to cover the monthly average of $1,628 in rent and utilities.
More:Why is it so hard to find affordable housing in New Jersey?
More:How can NJ address its affordable housing crisis? Advocates have creative solutions
Such a limit is unattainable for someone working a minimum wage job of $13 an hour; A resident would have to juggle nearly two and a half full-time jobs to afford such a rental.
To Tanika Moss, that number “seems almost reasonable” compared to the rent she earns to house herself and her four children in a two-bedroom apartment “in the worst part of town for $2,500” a month.
Moss said she has lived in her Patterson apartment for about eight years, but the neighborhood is changing and she doesn’t feel safe letting her children play outside. But she’s not getting a safer option than anything else, and if anyone should find a new home, it should be her — she works for the Women’s Center counseling clients on how to find affordable housing.
“It’s really one of the most frustrating things you can ever go through…it seems very similar to walking on the moon at this point, it seems far-fetched,” Moss said. “It’s very sad because I’ve gone from job hunting and looking for an apartment to going back to work and trying to encourage these women to keep going when I feel like giving up myself.”
The nonprofit researched the average salaries of New Jersey’s 30 largest jobs. Of these, 22 jobs earned less than $31.32 an hour; These include teacher’s aides, home health aides, food preparation workers, truck drivers and nurse’s aides.
“Housing is brutal and it’s only going to get worse,” said Lynn Allgrant, vice president of communications for Greer Bergen Community Action, a Hackensack-based nonprofit that aims to reduce poverty. “If a family can find a place that can afford it, it’s probably too far from where they work, and transportation and childcare can be a huge financial barrier that eats up any savings from a very cheap apartment.”
Matt Mergel, 31, is moving in with his family for the weekend as he continues his search for a new place to live. The owner of the Rahway townhouse they rented with two partners for $900 a month was selling the house, and Mergel couldn’t find a secure apartment on his $1,500-a-month budget.
Mergel works as a janitor in New York City, and comes home from work three days a week at 1 a.m.
“The semi-accessible places that I find are not in the best areas, and I don’t want to go to a place where I don’t know about crime at night,” he said. “I’m planning to get a car soon. I don’t want to worry about my car getting stolen.
For Mergel, the disappointing episode is being paid for by the community he’s lived in for five years.
“This is definitely the best job I’ve ever had in my career and now I’m fighting myself to make it home,” Mergell said. “It’s shocking to me because it makes me wonder what the future holds and how expensive it could be in five years.”
According to the report, Hudson is the most expensive county in New Jersey, with a fair market rent of $1,972 for a two-bedroom home.
That’s a small portion of what Rent.com found in an analysis of select Hudson County cities that named Jersey City the most expensive place to rent in 2021, with an average monthly rent of $5,500, up from $3,308 in 2021. Two other Hudson County cities made the “Top 100” list by examining multifamily rental data, including Hoboken, which rents at $4,264 and Bayonne, at $3,101.
Thursday’s “out of reach” report found fair market rents of $1,736 in Bergen and Passaic counties, $1,558 for Monmouth and Ocean and $1,479 for Morris, Essex, Sussex and Union counties.
When comparing housing prices to what a family earns in the region, the least expensive counties to live there are Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester, the report found.
According to a 2022 report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, “The Gap: A Shortage of Comparable Homes,” New Jersey has a shortage of affordable housing, providing 31 rental units for every 100 families and very low-income rental units. The analysis shows that there is insufficient housing supply for families below the poverty line in the country.
“I feel like I can’t help tenants, because there’s no inventory, and it’s very sad,” said Lisa Goetz, a Witcher real estate agent with an office in Princeton and serving Mercert, Somerset, Hunterdon and Burlington counties. “I’ll spend time on the phone with them and be the guy, suggesting ideas like posting ads on bulletin boards, but I don’t know if that’s going to work.”
Many factors have contributed to the housing crisis, which has led to a housing crisis that has made renters more likely to rent: historic subsidies for high rents, a lack of housing construction, and historically racist policies with effects that continue to this day. Such as restrictive covenants, redlining and predatory lending.
Real Estate Agents and Landlords Reflect on the Impact of Covid-19 As New Yorkers fled the city during the pandemic, home buying prices skyrocketed, spurred by increased competition. Millennials and others considering buying a home can no longer afford them, so they continue to struggle. Sellers had to find short-term rentals while they waited for homes to come on the market. That would limit additional rents for low-income families.
“There’s too much pressure on so many levels,” Goetz said.
Some small landlords are selling their properties to NorthJersey.com because of a loss of income during the state’s eviction ban, which has kept low- and moderate-income tenants unable to pay rent for more than a year and a half. Institutional investors can buy properties and raise rents and other fees, and since only 100 New Jersey cities have some form of rent control, there’s little stopping the boom.
Speakers at Thursday’s press conference ran through a wish list of policy changes that a coalition of community development organizations is pushing for in New Jersey and nationally. New Jersey should create a centralized application for renters to find affordable housing and limit the rapidly increasing costs of background checks and other costs for prospective tenants, he said. The federal government should fully fund the voucher program that subsidizes rent for low-income tenants. Currently, an estimated one in four income-eligible people actually secure a voucher.
“It’s not a top ten list that any state wants to be on…a lot of people are under incredible pressure,” said Stacey Berger, president and CEO of the New Jersey Housing and Community Development Network, referring to the report. Clearly, we have more to do so that everyone can call New Jersey home.