Rutgers Center study shows huge gap in affordable housing in Newark

Report says median rent in city ($1,100) is well out of reach of most residents

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has made adding more affordable residential housing and apartments to the city a top priority. A new study by the Rutgers Center of Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity shows the city still is coming up short on the goal.

According to the study, “Homes Beyond Reach,” the gap between what most Newark renters can pay for housing and the cost of rent in the city’s current housing inventory has grown so dramatically in recent years that it would take 16,000 additional low-rent units to meet the city’s current housing needs.

The report shows that the median household income of Newark renters is only $30,000 a year, making them very low income — and capable of being able to pay approximately $763 a month in rent. The median rent in Newark is almost $1,100. Newer units average much more, and even units deemed “affordable” are out of reach for most.

The report was produced by CLiME Director David Troutt and Senior Research Fellow Katharine Nelson.

Troutt will present his findings to the city’s Equitable Growth Advisory Commission on Wednesday night. Baraka is expected to participate in what will be a virtual meeting.

Troutt, in a media event earlier in the week, said it is important that Newark residences understand that their frustration over the high cost of renting is real — and important for Newark officials to understand the extent of the problem.

“The affordable housing problem in Newark is acute,” he said. “We wanted to give shape and specifics to a crisis that’s long in the making.

“It’s important to see from the 10,000-foot view how hard Newark families are working to live in what is still one of the country’s poorest cities.”

In a city of renters, half of Newark’s households compete for just a third of its rental housing.

The report said the hardest hit are families needing more than two bedrooms, a fact that contributes to overcrowding — and increased exposure to the coronavirus.

And, while the pandemic has brought awareness to the issue, it is not the cause of it, Troutt said.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Newark did not have enough affordable housing for its renter population, with nearly 60% of Newark renters spending more than a third of their incomes on housing. In addition, an estimated one-third of Newark renters spend more than half of their income for housing, making them severely cost burdened. The gap in low-rent units is particularly high in each of Newark’s outer wards.

“Intuitively, policymakers and the public knew that housing affordability in Newark is acute and getting worse,” Troutt said. “We endeavored to reveal the facts — and discovered an unrelenting crisis.”

The report makes several recommendations on how the city can improve conditions for Newark renters:

  • Set clear affordable housing goals, with numbers of units attached, based on an assessment of need in Newark wards and neighborhoods.
  • Focus on units with very low rents that would be affordable to most Newarkers, and on larger units for families.
  • Make use of the city’s available resources to creatively increase the number of affordable units by partnering with existing nonprofit agencies, and by providing free or low-cost land through the city’s Land Bank.
  • Play a leadership role in garnering additional resources from state and federal housing subsidy sources.
  • Balance the need for additional affordable housing with the rehabilitation needs of the city’s aging rental stock.

Troutt said action needs to be taken.

“In a sense, the world that has gotten away from many people despite their best efforts,” he said. “It leads to stressors across all parts of one’s life.”