Home values continued to drop in New Jersey last year, but so did the median mortgage payment, U.S. Census data shows.
Renters in the Garden State were not so lucky.
According to the 2013 American Community Survey, the median home value in the state was $307,700, 1.3 percent lower than in the prior year and 15.5 percent less than in 2008, early in the recent recession, when the typical home was valued at $364,100. That's not terribly surprising, as New Jersey's recovery has lagged behind much of the rest of the nation.
A bright spot for home buyers and those who refinanced: slightly lower monthly mortgage payments. The median monthly mortgage payment, according to Census officials, was $2,296 in New Jersey last year. That's 2 percent less than in 2012 and 2.7 percent less than five years earlier, when the median mortgage payment was $2,360 a month.
Still, the cost of housing in the state remained high -- oppressively high for many, as measured by widely held standards linking housing costs to income.
More than 870,000 home owners, or 62 percent of all those holding a mortgage, paid more than $2,000 a month toward that mortgage. For 3 out of every 10 New Jerseyans with a mortgage -- and for 2 out of 10 home owners without a mortgage -- housing costs last year consumed at least 35 percent of their income.
Renters may have had it even worse, as the median monthly rent charged in New Jersey rose to $1,171 last year, up 2 percent over 2012 and nearly 10 percent more than in 2008. Nearly 285,000 New Jerseyans, or more than a quarter of all renters, paid $1,500 or more a month in rent. And 45 percent of all renters spent 35 percent or more of their income on housing costs.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition's 2014 Out of Reach report ranked New Jersey the fifth-most-expensive state in the nation for renters, finding that in order to reasonably afford the typical two-bedroom apartment in the state, a renter would have to earn at least $24.92 an hour, or $51,838 a year. But the typical renter earned just $16.34 an hour, which made $850 the maximum affordable rent affordable so as to not pay more than 30 percent of income for housing.
And 44 percent of low-income renters in New Jersey pay more than half their income on rent and utilities -- $45,000 for a family of four, which is significantly higher than the national average, according to a report released in August by the NLIHC and Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. It states that there are only 40 affordable dwellings for every 100 low-income households, and that the state needs more than 280,000 additional rental units to house all the state's low-income renters.
“Everyone needs a home they can afford but factors like Superstorm Sandy, the foreclosure crisis, and a sluggish economy have created a strong demand that has outpaced supply,” said Arnold Cohen, senior policy coordinator with the Housing and Community Development Network. “In New Jersey you can have your pick of McMansions but if you’re in the market for a modest, affordable rental then it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
In introducing this year's Out of Reach report, NLIHC President Sheila Crowley expressed frustration at the inability to improve the housing situation for low-income residents.
"Despite its success as an affordable housing indicator and an advocacy tool, the tragedy of Out of Reach is that each year the housing affordability problems of the lowest income people in America grow worse," Crowley wrote. "Documenting and publicizing a problem is necessary, but insufficient to solving it."