Report: Affordable Housing Elusive in Jersey City

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While anecdotal evidence might suggest that rents across the city are coming down slightly from their highs during the housing boom, a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition points out that housing in Jersey City is still far from affordable. The report warns that the economic downturn is likely to lead to more homelessness, as more families fall into the lowest income brackets and compete for a limited number of affordable rental units.

The annual “Out of Reach” report, which parses HUD, Census and other federal data, found that tenants need to make $48,760 annually to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in the city. That’s slightly higher than the state number of $48,087, which was the fourth-highest among the 50 states. The median annual income in the city is $56,300. Affordability in this case consists of not paying more than 30 percent of a household income on housing.

The group ultimately found that 57 percent of renters in Jersey City are unable to afford the $1,219 monthly rent on a Fair Market Rent (FMR) two-bedroom apartment. New Jersey’s minimum wage is currently $7.15 per hour — it will be upped to $7.25 in July. But the housing wage — the hourly rate needed to afford a FMR two-bedroom apartment — in Jersey City is $23.44. That would translate to working 131 hours per week, or holding 3.3 full-time jobs.

But the city says it is doing its part to shelter low-income renters from the vagaries of the market.

“In 2008,¬†221 units of affordable housing were built in Jersey City,” city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill says. “Additionally, there are currently 369 units of affordable housing¬†under construction, and another 350 units in the planning stages.”

The situation on the open market is worst for the poorest of the city’s poor — those who rely on federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, a program designed to “help aged, blind and disabled people.” The monthly SSI payment to an individual is $705 in NJ. If SSI represents an individual’s sole source of income, $212 in monthly rent is affordable, while the FMR for a one-bedroom in Jersey City is $1,045 and a studio is $989.

“The longstanding structural deficit of rental homes that the lowest income people can afford, exacerbated by the economic recession, will surely lead to more people becoming homeless,” coalition president Sheila Crowley said in a statement. “We hope that Out of Reach will demonstrate to policy makers the urgency of acting now to increase the supply of affordable housing and housing assistance for those who are hit hardest by the recession.”

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.