NJTV co-hosts community forum discussing housing and health

Aired December 19, 2017
By Briana Vannozzi

If there’s one number that speaks to the housing challenges in the city of New Brunswick, it’s 27 percent. That’s the amount of residents who own a home. The rest, 69 percent, say they rent. That’s double the state average, and it’s hindering the quality of life in the rapidly growing central Jersey town.

“If you want to look at community success you need to have an affordable place for folks who live in your community to thrive,” said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

Berger was one of several panelists at NJTV’s “In Your Neighborhood” community forum on affordable housing in New Brunswick. She said there’s been a disinvestment from the state over the last decade to build quality, affordable homes. Many are looking to the new administration to remedy those rollbacks. Studies show poor housing options have a domino effect on just about every area of life.

“Making sure people can live in a safe, affordable home is better for everybody because it raises test scores and raises ability for people to achieve on their own. If you don’t have people being lead poisoned in their own home, they’re not going to need additional special education down the road,” said Berger.

“About 46 percent of New Brunswick residents say they want to move out if they had the choice, and on the other side 36 percent are happy where they are. Another 17 percent say they’d move to another part of New Brunswick, so you have over half dissatisfied with where they live,” said Ashley Koning from the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

That’s from an Eagleton Institute of Politics 2016 New Brunswick Community Survey. That data shed light on areas where the city needs vast improvement. Resident Bonfilia Jarquin says she’s lived in dilapidated apartments and moves her family frequently because she can’t afford the high cost of living.

“It’s unfortunate we have to save for three weeks to pay our rent,” said Jarquin.

Latinos make up more than 55 percent of the community there. That’s a nearly 17 percent increase in as many years, according to U.S. Census data. Teresa Vivar says Latinos’ access to housing, along with health and medical care, is disproportionate. And the national political climate around immigrants makes them fearful to speak out.

“Nobody was ready for that growing so fast — the population. So since they don’t speak the same language, the barrier is even bigger,” said Teresa Vivar, executive director of Lazos America Unida.

Though some new policies could help the quality of life here and throughout the state, explained by Karen Blumenfeld, executive director at New Jersey Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy.

“The federal government recently created a rule requiring all public housing authority buildings be 100 percent smoke-free with the exception of Section 8 housing. In this community, there are four buildings run by the New Brunswick Housing Authority,” said Blumenfeld.

“Housing is a local issue, it’s a personal issue when we go home. The home we choose is a personal decision, so these are tough things to work through,” said Jaymie Santiago, executive director of New Brunswick Tomorrow.

It’s about encouraging residents to get involved in their neighborhood planning because the communities ultimately belong to those who live and work there.