New Jersey needs to do more to meet its affordable housing goals


Monday, May 9, 2011

Once again, New Jerseyans are confronted by the cold, hard fact that it's pretty darn hard to find a decent, affordable place to live in our state unless you make a heck of a lot more than the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

As a matter of fact, if you don't earn at least $24.54 per hour and work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you can't even afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in the Garden State where the fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is now up to $1,276 per month.
Using the widely accepted "measure of housing affordability" that no more than 30 percent of household income should be spent on housing costs, that $1,276 monthly rent requires an annual family income of $51,000 per year - a princely sum that many New Jersey families can only dream of earning.

These are the latest New Jersey housing statistics released in the report "Out-of-Reach-2011" by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (a Washington, D.C.-based housing policy organization) and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (a Trenton-based housing policy and advocacy organization).

The report notes that New Jersey is the fourth most expensive state in the nation for housing costs. So what are we doing about this in New Jersey? Not much. We have no state housing policy. We have no meeting of the minds between the Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie on how municipalities should meet their affordable housing obligations originally mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court's 1975 Mount Laurel I decision. The state's primary affordable housing production program cannot come anywhere near meeting the state's actual needs on an annual basis. And now everyone is waiting to see what the state Supreme Court will say this time around about the Council on Affordable Housing's 2004 growth-share rules that were recently rejected as unconstitutional by the Superior Court Appellate Division.

If this all sounds a bit abstract, I invite you to sit in our office reception room some morning and meet and listen to all the people who come to us with a small hope that we can produce a big affordable housing miracle for them.

But for most of them we cannot produce that miracle right now because our apartments are full, our waiting lists are long, and our opportunities to produce new housing in the current economic, political and judicial environment are few and far between.

Come on, New Jersey, we can do better than this; we are better than this. We need a state housing policy that addresses the production of housing of all kinds, all prices and all locations.

We need the governor and the Legislature to compromise on housing legislation that does not leave our low- and moderate-income citizens out in the cold.

And we need to use all of our available financial resources - like balanced housing funds and municipal housing trust funds - for the purposes for which they are intended.

Let's get housing production back on track and produce the jobs and affordable homes that we all want and need. We can do this.

Matthew A. Reilly
President/CEO, MEND