The state has 81 housing authorities that, working with the Department of Community Affairs and private agencies, administer more than 75,000 housing vouchers to put people in affordable homes, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That’s nowhere near enough to meet the demand, though, with many housing agencies having either extensive waiting lists or no longer even taking applicants except from certain underserved populations. The problem is only set to get worse, since estimates have the current federal sequester cutting the number of vouchers distributed by roughly 100,000.
New Jersey can ill afford cuts.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, about 273,000 New Jersey renters have extremely low incomes, but it doesn’t have enough housing for the poorest residents — the state has a shortage of 189,000 units for those with the lowest incomes. A renter needs to earn almost $25 a hour in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at what HUD determines is fair market rent. Those rents range from $1,019 in Cape May to $1,450 in Bergen and Passaic.
Renters receiving HUD vouchers have to pay at least some of that amount. Typically, a family needs to pay 30 percent of its adjusted gross income for rent and utilities. It gets a voucher based on the calculated fair market value, but if the actual rent charged is more, the family will have to pay the difference.
HUD’s voucher program is the federal government’s primary means of helping to house those with very low incomes, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. There are a number of different types of vouchers targeting different populations or for specific purposes, including those aimed at helping veterans, others meant to help people purchase a home, and still others designed to help protect tenants from eviction.
The vouchers are typically available through one of the public housing agencies, some of which are county-based, while others cover specific municipalities. DCA issued the largest number of vouchers, almost 22,500 in December of 2012, HUD data shows. The housing authorities of Newark, Jersey City, Bergen County, and Gloucester County each had more than 2,000 vouchers in use.
While some agencies operate their own housing developments, people can use the vouchers to cover any type of housing they can find, including a single-family home, townhouse, or apartment, if the owner agrees to participate in the program and accept the voucher. Housing units have to meet minimum health and safety standards.
Most of those getting vouchers have income that is no more than 30 percent of the median income for that county or area, although people may also be eligible in their income is as high as half the median. In New Jersey, the 30 percent income limits range from $19,900 for a family of four in Cumberland County to $31,150 in Hunterdon, Middlesex and Somerset.