TRENTON – New Jersey remains among the nation’s most expensive places to rent a home although it became slightly more affordable over the past year, according to the latest version of a yearly report that doesn’t accurately capture the recent soaring rents.

Fair market rent in New Jersey is $1,628 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the Out of Reach report for 2022 from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s down from $1,662 in the same group’s report for 2021.

Somebody who makes the state’s $13 minimum wage would have to work 96 hours a week to afford such an apartment and keep their spending on rent and utilities to 30% of their income. That’s down from 107 hours a week one year earlier, when the minimum wage in the state was $12 an hour.

“A lot of folks are facing incredible, incredible pressure to be able to find and afford a place to live in New Jersey,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

From 6th to 7th

New Jersey ranks as the seventh most expensive, down a spot from 2021. The most expensive states are Hawaii and California, followed by Massachusetts, New York, the District of Columbia and Washington state. New Jersey is one penny cheaper than Washington, coming in at $31.32 an hour.

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“It is not a top 10 list that any state wants to be on, but we are moving at least in the correct direction,” Berger said.

That hourly housing wage amounts to an annual salary of over $65,000 statewide. But it ranges from $78,880 in Hudson County, where someone would have to work 117 hours a week at minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment, to $51,920 in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties.

However, given that wages in North Jersey are higher than in South Jersey, the least affordable counties are considered to be Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester counties.

“What you have is people working hard, doing all they can to support their family, and they’re still faced with the very difficult decision of where they spend their dollars – on food, clothing, keeping a roof over your head,” said Arnold Cohen, senior policy advisor for the HCDNNJ. “And people who are working full time shouldn’t be having to face those kind of difficult decisions.”

Finding a place like 'walking on the moon'

Paterson resident Tanika Moss had hoped to buy a home, before the pandemic upended things, and is now looking for a new apartment to rent. She called it “one of the most discouraging things you could ever have to go through,” with prices out of control even in some of the scariest parts of town.

“Just trying to find an apartment that you can afford in a safe area to raise your children seems like almost equivalent to walking on the moon,” Moss said.

Fair market rents are based on American Community Survey data from the Census Bureau for the 2015 through 2019 period, using the 40th percentile number, which is then adjusted. As a result, Cohen said it likely does not capture the recent escalations in rent.

“The data that we’re presenting today really is – the picture is much worse,” Cohen said.

The State Rental Assistance Program was recently opened for the first time in recent memory and got 86,000 applications for around 4,000 spots, Berger said.

The new state budget includes $305 million to support the development of new rental housing. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund also has around $100 million available.

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