ATLANTIC CITY — Sandy Lazorko, 62, has lived in the Chelsea Village Apartments for more than seven years — and not by choice.
That’s because rental prices have been steadily rising across the United States. The Jersey Shore is no exception.
The average rent in Atlantic City is up 23% from a year ago, according to data from Zumper, a web-based platform for renters, landlords and property managers.
“Every time you turn around, the rent goes up,” Lazorko said. “I can’t even think about moving into certain places because I can’t even afford it.”
The limited affordable housing options in the area, especially for renters, along with the recent increase in rent prices in the United States, have locked Lazorko and her husband in their two-bedroom apartment.
Lina Hong, 28, is an investor in Atlantic City who has lived here for over 20 years. She and her family own several short and long term rental properties in the city.
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“There are fewer homes available for sale today than two years ago,” Hong said, adding that buyers have benefited from low interest rates in recent years, which is also contributing to the shortage. of accommodation.
“Landlords are increasingly cautious about renting out their properties due to anti-eviction law in New Jersey during the pandemic. Many of them lost a lot of money because they couldn’t collect their rent,” she said. “As a result, there are fewer rentals put on the market. Those on the market will select tenants very carefully. »
The cost of housing inflated 4.7% nationally from February 2021 to February 2022, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Residents like Lazorko are struggling to make ends meet when it comes to paying their rent and are “definitely looking” for help.
Lazorko has worked at ShopRite full-time since moving into her apartment in 2015 and said the rent was “outrageous”, especially for seniors.
Sixty-five percent of occupied housing in Atlantic City is occupied by tenants, according to Zumper.
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The city has several rental assistance programs, including a short-term COVID-19 rental/mortgage assistance program that could provide residents with up to six months of assistance. The program, announced earlier this month by Mayor Marty Small Sr.’s administration, is in partnership with the Salvation Army and Catholic charities.
Hong said the city should provide grants to residents to help them with their rental income and grants to investors to build properties for long-term tenants so they can provide them with a more attractive option, noting “there has a lot of vacant land available, but no one is willing to do it without incentive.
Lazorko has applied for other rental assistance programs in the past, including a state-funded general short-term rent relief program six months ago and food stamps. She was approved for three months of housing assistance but got no response from the state when she asked for an extension.
Many residents said the strict requirements of these aid programs killed their chances of eligibility.
“I think there should be more programs and they should lower their expectations,” Lazorko said. She said she was also denied food stamp assistance because the income she gets from ShopRite exceeds the allotted household income “by so little”.
The maximum pre-tax income that applicants must have is less than $25,142 for singles and $33,874 for a two-person household, according to data from the official US government benefits website.
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Although Lazorko lives with her husband, he is retired and currently not working, which makes his situation more difficult.
Lazorko and other residents like Alonzo Blakely, 38, agree that rent in the city needs to be more affordable.
“There really aren’t a lot of options and there are absolutely not enough programs. We need more,” said Blakely, who works full-time as an assistant project engineer.
Blakely pays $1,350 a month for a studio apartment for himself and his son in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.
The fair market value of a studio or efficiency in Atlantic City is $946 per month, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The fair market value of a two-bedroom apartment is $1,407.
“Everything is full. I had been looking for a new place for over three months now,” said Blakely, who moved from Atlanta to Atlantic City eight years ago.
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Blakely said if it wasn’t for his son, he would have left the state by now.
Zumper data places Chelsea as the most expensive neighborhood in the city, where the average rent can reach $14,000 per month.
Renters in the area have limited options as the city’s tourist season begins soon and short-term rentals rule its residential areas.
“I admit that it is becoming more difficult for residents to find adequate accommodation due to the boom in short-term rentals. If you do it right, the money you make with short-term rentals is way more than long-term rentals,” Hong said.
Short-term rental sites like Airbnb have over 300 listings on the island.
According to census data from 2015 to 2019, only 27.2% of housing in the city is owner-occupied, leaving residents looking for affordable housing.
Many homeowners live in other locations during the shoulder season and take advantage of their beach houses when summer arrives.
The city’s entrepreneurs, developers and investors also play a role in the housing shortage, buying up residential properties to turn into businesses in residential areas.
“I don’t agree with some investors who evict people for the sole purpose of converting property into short-term rentals,” said Hong, who said the majority of his tenants are long-term and work in casinos. “It’s not all about the money. It’s about morality and knowing that people’s homes are at stake here.
Hong said the Atlantic City real estate market has “improved a lot” in terms of property value thanks to these new investors bringing in money to develop homes.
“The only way to have more affordable long-term rentals is if there are more rental properties on the market,” Hong said.
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