Report: N.J. fourth most expensive state for renters


Bergen, Passaic, Cumberland and Essex least affordable

When it comes to the cost of rent, New Jersey is the fourth most expensive state in the nation, excluding Washington, DC, according to a national study released Monday.

The hourly wage a New Jersey family must earn — working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year — to be able to afford the rent and utilities for a safe and modest home in the New Jersey has increased 56 percent since 2000, the report found.

The typical renter in the state earns $15.82 per hour, which is $8.72 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest unit. An estimated 61 percent of New Jersey renters do not earn enough to afford a two-bedroom unit at the fair market rent.

The report, “Out of Reach 2011,” was jointly released at a press conference in Hamilton (Mercer) by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a Washington, D.C.-based housing policy organization, the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, and the Mercer Community Development Team. The report provides the housing wage and other housing affordability data for every state, metropolitan area, combined non metropolitan area, and county in the country.

According to the report, Bergen and Passaic are the most expensive counties in the state with 76 percent of renters in Passaic in particular unable to afford the local fair market rent. Cumberland and Essex counties follow closely behind with 71 percent and 66 percent, respectively, unable to afford the fair market rent.

In Mercer County, a family must earn, on average, $23.54 an hour or $48,960 a year to afford the fair market rent of $1,224 per month for a modest two-bedroom apartment. In order to afford a modest, two bedroom apartment in Mercer, a minimum wage worker would have to work 130 hours or 3.2 full time jobs per week. Even at the county’s median income, a worker would have to work 1.6 full time jobs per week.

Thirty-two percent or over 40,000 of Mercer’s households are renters and of that, 62 percent of renters are unable to afford a 2 bedroom apartment at the fair market rent.

"For the past 20 years, HomeFront has been on the front line helping low income working families find and maintain their housing," Celia Murphree Bernstein, director of HomeFront, Hamilton-based affordable housing organization. "The families we serve struggle everyday to keep up with the high cost of their housing. We are proud we have created 75 affordable homes in the past ten years but the climate today is making the continuation of that production almost impossible. The need continues to grow. We are pleased to host this event and to continue to raise the cry for the need of more truly affordable housing in our community."

To gauge affordability, the NLIHC and the Community Development Network both use the widely accepted measure that no more than 30 percent of a person's income should be spent on housing.

"This data only emphasizes the need for more affordable home choices in our state," Diane Sterner, Community Development Network director, said. "The governor's proposed state budget has no money to either build or rehabilitate new homes that our hard working families can afford. On the contrary, for the third year in a row New Jersey’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund is being raided.

“How can we expect New Jersey's economy to bounce back when its workforce can't afford to live here?,” Sterner said. “In order to move our economy forward, we need to create homes and jobs in environmentally appropriate places with access to transit."

Housing advocates pointed to the data that illustrates the large percentage of renters unable to afford homes throughout New Jersey as reason for protecting the state's Affordable Housing Trust Fund and State Rental Assistance Program.

"The good news is that the governor plans to fund the State Rental Assistance Program," Herb Levine, Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness director, said. "The bad news is that he plans to take any money left in the state's Affordable Housing Trust Fund and this is money whose purpose is to build more homes affordable to struggling individuals and families."

"Creating a more affordable New Jersey has always been one of my top priorities, especially for our working class residents and especially in these difficult economic times," Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) said. "We’ve worked hard to protect housing assistance, combat high property taxes that can make home ownership difficult and fix our broken affordable housing system by replacing it with one that opens housing opportunities to everyone. It’s a tough fight and we have a long way to go to convince everyone to make it a priority, but we will not give up until we confront the difficulties that many residents face when it comes to affording a home."

The Out of Reach 2011 is available at