N.J. lacks enough affordable rental housing, study finds


By Beth Fitzgerald

New Jersey has a severe shortage of affordable rental housing, according to Out of Reach 2011, a national study released Monday that found an estimated 61 percent of New Jerseyans can’t afford to rent a two-bedroom unit.

A household needs to earn $24.54 an hour to cover rent and utilities for the average two-bedroom unit in New Jersey, according to the report, which said the state is the fifth most expensive rental housing market in the United States, after Hawaii, Washington, D.C., California and Maryland. To gauge affordability, the study assumes no more than 30 percent of income is spent on housing.

The report was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition of Washington, D.C., and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

"This data only emphasizes the need for more affordable home choices in our state," said Diane Sterner, executive director for the Housing and Community Development Network. "How can we expect New Jersey's economy to bounce back when its work force can't afford to live here? In order to move our economy forward, we need to create homes and jobs in environmentally appropriate places with access to transit."

The report said 33 percent of New Jersey households are renters, with rent for a two-bedroom apartment ranging from $1,494 a month in Bergen County to $949 a month in Cape May.

To bridge the affordability gap, many Jerseyans “are in survival mode,” and work more than 40 hours a week to cover living expenses, said Susan Oldroyd Laffler, director of development for Homefirst Interfaith and Family Services.

Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said the affordable-housing shortage is a problem for businesses trying to recruit workers. “Whether it’s young people out of college or attracting people from out of state, the single largest cost is rent or home prices,” he said.

Sterner said the state has not funded the New Jersey Affordable Housing Trust Fund for the past three years. In a statement, the state Department of Community Affairs said, "The New Jersey Affordable Housing Trust Fund is the repository of state funds appropriated for furthering the development, construction, rehabilitation and similar activities related to affordable housing. The AHTF is funded by a portion of the realty transfer fee paid on the sale of all real property. As a result of the downturn in the real estate market, the realty transfer fees have been low. "

The DCA statement said New Jersey continues to fund the state Rental Assistance Program, which  subsidizes "the rental expenses of the very low income, including disabled and elderly individuals. Further, the state continues to administer the Federal HOME and Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which provide funding to developers for the creation and rehabilitation of affordable housing.  Additionally, the state administers other construction and rehabilitation programs through the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency."

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