A 2021 fourth-quarter report released by ATTOM Data Solutions shows that one-fifth of the nation's counties most at risk for damage to their housing markets due to COVID-19's ongoing economic impacts were New Jersey jurisdictions counted as part of either the New York or Philadelphia metro areas.

In addition to Bergen, Essex, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Ocean, Passaic, Sussex, Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties, Cumberland, Monmouth, and Union also cracked the Top 50.

That's 13 counties total, out of those 50, right here in the Garden State.

According to Rick Sharga, executive vice president of ATTOM subsidiary RealtyTrac, the calculation of three distinct percentages can put a county at high risk: how much household income it takes to purchase a home, how many homes are underwater (meaning more is owed on the mortgage than the house is worth), and the volume of foreclosure filings.

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As ATTOM has previously found, foreclosures are at an all-time low, but activity is starting to simmer, and New Jersey's rates remain comparatively high.

All that considered, however, Sharga said "risk" is relative, as U.S. housing numbers still look good overall.

'No surprise' New Jersey is at high risk

"We're also in a housing market that is booming across the country, and New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, no exceptions to that. The housing markets in those areas are still extraordinarily strong," he said. "The markets that we're looking at as being the highest-risk markets are also in states that really haven't recovered as rapidly as some other states have from the COVID recession."

It's "no surprise," then, that so much of New Jersey is high risk, as unemployment rates here have continued to trend higher than the national average.

"These are all markets that had sort of the tightest government regulations," Sharga said. "The governments, both state and city governments, felt the need to be a little stricter in terms of battling COVID."

Besides COVID concerns, what the high-risk markets also all have in common is that they are high-density, and would be prone to risk even without a pandemic.

Sharga cautions that should the coronavirus trend upward enough again to trigger economic shutdowns, housing markets could collapse in these areas.

"They tend to have a very high percentage of service industry jobs, which are the ones that have been most impacted by the pandemic in the past, and probably would be again if there's another wave in the future," he said.

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