Housing still out of reach for many N.J. residents
Published: Thursday, May 19, 2011, 6:00 AM Updated: Thursday, May 19, 2011, 4:42 PM
By Star-Ledger Editorial Board The Star-Ledger
A new report rates New Jersey as the fourth most expensive state for housing. That should be a spur to lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie to tackle — once again — the state’s cumbersome and ineffectual housing policy. Their efforts came to a halt earlier this year with Christie’s conditional veto of a bill supported by housing advocates, builders and municipal leaders. It abolished the Council on Affordable Housing and created options for municipalities to provide affordable units if they didn’t already have 10 percent in their existing housing stock.
“Out of Reach,” a report by the Low Income Housing Coalition and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, documents the continuing crisis in affordability: A family must earn $51,044 a year to afford a two-bedroom apartment priced at the fair market rent of $1,276 a month. A typical renter in the state earns $40,381 a year, placing a modest rental beyond the reach of most hourly workers, the report said.
Arnold Cohen, the network’s policy coordinator, said about 1 million people in the state pay more than half of their income for housing; about two-thirds are homeowners and one-third are renters. Wages have not kept pace with living costs; even people holding two low-wage jobs can barely keep up.
And when affordable apartments come on the market, the long, long line forms on the right. A Moorestown nonprofit in Burlington County found that out two years ago when it had 2,000 applicants — all working people — for 104 apartments leasing for between $350 and $850 a month. Advocates for the homeless in Lakewood’s tent city are in court to get Ocean County to build a shelter. Residents of Camden’s homeless encampment want jobs revitalizing thousands of the city’s abandoned properties that they can call home. Kevin Walsh, of the Fair Share Housing Center, said it is busy ensuring Hoboken, Morristown and West Windsor do not reduce the number of affordable units that are supposed to be a part of new development. With the fate of COAH in limbo, many towns have opted to do nothing.
And it’s not just advocates that see the problem. “Clearly there’s an affordability issue in state,” said Michael Cerra, senior legislative analyst for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. “It’s not just urban centers, but suburban areas. There’s a disconnect between stated policy and implementation, and the two haven’t been bridged yet.”
It’s past time for Christie and the Legislature to bridge their differences and try again. This problem is not going away. It’s getting worse.
Correction: This editorial incorrectly characterized the housing bill that Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed earlier this year. The bill did not have the support of municipal leaders, who supported the veto. The Star-Ledger regrets the error.