N.J. rental market ranks 7th most expensive in national study

How much do you need to earn to afford a modest apartment in your state?

A new report published Wednesday finds that New Jersey’s 2023 “Housing Wage” means that full-time workers in the Garden State need to earn $33.50 per hour to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

The Out of Reach report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is released annually and calls attention to the gulf between wages and what people need to earn to afford their rents.

It’s not just New Jersey. Affordable rental homes are out of reach nationally for millions of low-wage workers and other families. The report’s “Housing Wage” is an estimate of the hourly wage full-time workers must earn to afford a rental home at fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their incomes. Nationally, the 2023 Housing Wage is $28.58 per hour for a modest two-bedroom rental home and $23.67 for a modest one-bedroom rental home.

“New Jersey’s housing affordability crisis is most severe for our lowest-income, most vulnerable renters and homeowners. They are under the threat of eviction and foreclosure, and, ultimately, homelessness because of unconscionable rent increases and a severe shortage of affordable and available homes,” Staci Berger, CEO and president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said. “We’re on a trajectory that’s going to have devastating consequences on our state’s economy and our families. Our public officials must double down on investments that expand affordable home opportunities and adopt policies that take aim at housing insecurity. Both are necessary for our residents and communities to thrive.”

Working at the minimum wage of $14.13 in New Jersey, a wage earner must have two full-time jobs or work 79 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and have 2.4 full-time jobs or work 95 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. But, even millions of workers making higher than minimum wage are still unable to afford housing. The average renter wage is $24.40, $9.10 less than the housing wage.

Among the 30 largest occupations in New Jersey as of 2022, 24 pay median wages less than the 2023 housing wage. This includes teacher assistants, nursing assistants, accounting clerks, home health aides, truck drivers, security guards, janitors, food preparation workers, receptionists, cashiers and others.

To address growing housing insecurity and instability in New Jersey’s housing market, the network launched the HouseNJ campaign, which seeks transformative state and federal housing investments. The campaign calls on New Jersey leaders to support full funding of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, expand the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Program, streamline the state’s affordable housing assistance application and eliminate credit score obstacles and bias in property appraisals.

“Housing is a human right,” NLIHC CEO and President Diane Yentel said. “Stable, affordable homes are a prerequisite for basic well-being, and no person should face the danger of losing their home. But, as the Out of Reach report shows, too many low-income renters now face worsening housing instability, as wages stagnate, housing costs rise and pandemic-era safety net programs close. Addressing the country’s long-term housing affordability crisis requires bridging the gap between rents and incomes through comprehensive federal legislation and adequate funding by Congress for our country’s vital affordable housing and homelessness programs.”