How much does it cost to live in New Jersey?

Aired July 25, 2018
By Leah Mishkin

Lynda Tobin shares where she lives with other people.

“This is my closet because there’s not a closet outside, which is a difficult thing because there’s no lock on this and you’re living with strangers for the most part,” she said.

Those strangers all share a kitchen and a bathroom.

“Now you’ve got black mold over here, so when you’re paying this little bit of money you have to deal with landlords that don’t take care of the place very well,” Tobin said.

Tobin pays $500 a month for her room.

“Housing is ridiculous. You cannot find, even the place that I was just renting, you could walk six steps in any direction and you’ll be in every single room in the apartment. And that was $1,200 a month there,” Tobin said.

A former hairdresser, Tobin says she was forced to move out of that apartment a few months ago because she could no longer afford the rent. Her disability check of $980 a month doesn’t get her very far.

“Out of that comes a very high car insurance, that’s $300 a month. I have little things. Surcharge is $50 a month, then the storage unit is $133 a month. I can do the $500 a month but the only thing you have available to you is a room,” she said.

New Jersey is the sixth most expensive state in the United States for renters, according to the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

Numbers in its report show if you’re making the mean wage of roughly $18 an hour, you would have to work 62 hours a week, or 1.6 full-time jobs, to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

If you’re making the minimum wage in the state – roughly $9 an hour – you would have to work 131 hours per week, or 3.3 full-time jobs to afford that same 2-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

“The bank teller, the child care worker, the police officer, the librarian, your counter person in the deli, they need to be able to afford to live somewhere. And we never were a state where people who worked here couldn’t afford to live here, and now we are,” said Sharon Barker, vice president and COO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

Her organization’s report breaks down rent costs by county. In New Jersey, Bergen, Passaic, and Hunterdon Counties top the list with an average rent of $1,670 a month for a 2-bedroom at fair market rent.

The president-elect of New Jersey’s Realtors Association, Ilene Horowitz, says with high rental prices, many are turning to buy their first home.

“Every municipality, every town, will be different, of course, with pricing, but I definitely see the shortage. The first-time homebuyer where I live, that $250,000 to $300,000 price point, those houses are selling very quickly,” Horowitz said.

She says it’s a great time to sell a house, but a lack of inventory has increased the prices if you’re looking to buy.

“The median sales price has gone up. It’s gone up over 4.6 percent from last June. The median sales price in New Jersey is $340,000,” said Horowitz.

And then your property taxes are going to run you. The average bill comes in at $8,690 in 2017. It’s the highest in the nation.

“We end up being number one in a lot of things. We’re number one in foreclosures in the entire country. We’re number one in millennials living at home because they can’t afford to live out on their own. We’re number one in seniors leaving the state to go somewhere else that they can afford, and those are not the things you want to be number one in,” Barker said.

Tobin says she doesn’t want to leave the state because her two daughters are here, but her options are very limited. She says another problem with renting a room is the unexpected. This weekend Tobin found out she now has to vacate this new apartment, so a tough search begins all over again.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.