U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate the housing affordability issue is a particularly big issue for renters.
• More than 51 percent of renter-occupied households in New Jersey were spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs in 2011, compared with nearly 42 percent of owner-occupied households.
• Higher-than-average shares of overburdened owner-occupied households were mostly in northeast New Jersey counties near New York City, as well as in Atlantic and Ocean counties. For renters, every county south of Interstate 195 except Gloucester County had rates of overextended households above the state average, as did Essex, Monmouth, Passaic and Sussex counties.
• In Ocean, Passaic and Sussex counties, more than three of every five renter-occupied homes spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the Census Bureau.
• An annual, national report released in March said New Jersey is the fourth most expensive state in America for renting a two-bedroom apartment, behind Hawaii, New York and California. The fair-market rent for such a unit is nearly $1,300 a month, and a household would need income of nearly $52,000 a year to stay below the 30 percent affordability threshold.
Nearly half of New Jersey children, almost 1 million, live in households struggling with high housing cost burdens, a stress that has worsened over the last half-dozen years.
The annual Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released today, says 48 percent of children in New Jersey — 990,000 — live in households that spent more than 30 percent of their pretax income in 2011 on housing costs such as rent, mortgage, taxes and insurance. That compares with 40 percent nationally. Only California was higher, at 52 percent; Florida was tied with New Jersey.
Manchester resident Maria Romano knows the feeling. Though her family last year moved into a home with an interest-free mortgage constructed through Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity, she said that keeping pace with expenses is not easy.
“Even with that, with all the bills that we have in the house, living, it’s just crazy,” Romano said.
New Jersey’s rate of 48 percent stayed stagnant over the past year, even while it declined a bit nationally. It is also higher than the 43 percent measured in 2005.
Nina Arce, media coordinator for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said the problem is a growing one that is not just isolated to pockets of the state. That is “disappointing and unacceptable,” given that New Jersey is among the nation’s wealthiest states.
“No parent should have to choose whether to pay the rent, keep the lights on or feed their kids,” Arce said. “Children know what is going on around them, and they are definitely impacted by the financial strains on their parents.”
A middle-class issue
Romano said shielding children from that financial stress is not easy — “especially when they’re older, they’re more than aware.” It was particularly difficult before she moved into her current home, when she, her husband, Arvi Lawson, and their three sons were living in a bedroom in her sister’s house.
“They were trying to figure out why we had to stay there. But we didn’t let them know, because we don’t want the stress on them, because they’re all young,” Romano said. “Especially my oldest, who’s 12, he sometimes will come up to us and wants something. I have to say ‘Not now’ — but not try to tell him we can’t afford it, we don’t have the money for it because we have to pay this, this and this. But we try not to let them know.”