Low-income renters and renters of color hardest hit by housing crisis, study finds

To comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment in Perth Amboy at the market rate of $1,850 per month, a family would need to earn $74,000. But the city, where 85% of residents are people of color and 20% of families live in poverty, has a median household income of $54,188.

In Passaic, a two-bedroom apartment costs an average of around $1,700 a month, or 103 hours a week at minimum wage to avoid being overburdened with costs.

And Elizabeth residents are seeing two-bedroom apartments at around $1,480 a month. For a family to live there comfortably, they would need to earn $59,160 a year, nearly $8,000 more than the city’s median household income.

In one of the most expensive states in the country, low-income residents and people of color are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, according to a new study by Make the Road New Jerseya campaigning immigration and labor organization based in Elizabeth.

And although rent relief programs are available to all residents, regardless of citizenship status, most tenants interviewed for the study never applied for the assistance, and of the 32 people who did asked, only nine received help, according to the study.

For the study, the group surveyed 400 tenants in the three cities between May and September.

In Elizabeth and Perth Amboy, tenants reported being overdue by $1,500 in rent, while tenants in Passaic reported average arrears of up to $2,000, according to the report. Most tenants also reported that their landlords have been raising rent every year since the pandemic hit in March 2020.

A Perth Amboy tenant who received state housing assistance told Make the Road that despite her landlord receiving housing assistance, he claims she still owes $8,800 and is threatening to expel. She said the landlord is keeping the conditions in the apartment poor to try to evict her, but she can’t pay rent elsewhere.

“There are cockroaches and mice and a big hole in the ground. I fear for my health and that of my children,” she told interviewers.

Around 20% of respondents said their living conditions were unsafe, unsanitary or unsafe – mostly in Passaic, where a third of respondents said their accommodation was unsafe. About half of renters who said they lived in unsafe conditions said their landlords refused to make repairs. Another 7% of renters reported bullying and harassment from their landlords, the report said.

And a “significant number” of tenants are forgoing paying for food in order to pay their rent, according to Make the Road.

“In New Jersey’s most tenant-rich towns, tenants are faced with impossible decisions — whether it’s paying this month’s rent or putting food on the table for their families. Lost wages, inflation and rent increases are creating a crisis for tenants, with between a third and more than half struggling to pay their rent,” the study says.

According United States Census Bureau data, the three towns have a majority of tenants. Elizabeth’s home is nearly 75% occupied by tenants; in Perth Amboy, nearly 70% of residents are tenants; and in Passaic, which has one of the highest renter populations in the state, about 78% of residents rent.

In Elizabeth, around 60% of residents surveyed by Make the Road said they had difficulty paying rent, and almost 40% had difficulty paying for food. Around 44% of Passaic respondents had difficulty paying their rent, with a third saying they had difficulty buying food. And in Perth Amboy, 35% of people said they struggled to pay their rent, and one in four struggled to pay for their food.

Change advocates want to see

Make the Road says the state needs a “visionary housing policy” to protect families from displacement.

He is urging the three cities to enact rent freezes and strengthen rent control laws, which they say would help preserve affordable housing stock and protect low-income tenants from eviction from their homes. lodging. There is no statewide rent control law in New Jersey, leaving the matter up to each municipality.

Elizabeth’s rent control laws put in place during the pandemic expire at the end of the year, while Passaic’s have already expired. Perth Amboy, which has rent control laws that prohibit landlords from raising rents more than 5% a year, is considering lowering the amount to 3% at a council meeting on Wednesday.

The organization also wants to see Perth Amboy strengthen its enforcement of habitability laws – the right of tenants to live in a safe home with repairs carried out within a reasonable time. He urges the city to start tracking complaints by building and expand on the implications for repeat landlords of livability violations.

Officials from the three cities did not respond to requests for comment.

And the group is calling on state and local authorities to reopen rental assistance programs and target immigrants and low-income residents. Two rounds of CARES Act-funded COVID relief programs have been exhausted, and a recent round of state rental assistance has helped 4,000 inhabitants, although more than 86,000 people applied.

The state is sitting on about $1 billion in US bailout funds, which Make the Road says should be used to meet the needs of thousands of tenants struggling to pay rent.

“Municipalities and the state can increase housing assistance programs and streamline applications so those most in need – who are too often left behind – can access them,” the report says. “These actions will put our cities and our state on the path to greater racial, economic and gender equality.”

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