Interactive Map: Older Folks Find It Hard to Afford to Live in Garden State

Colleen O'Dea | January 8, 2016 | Map of the Week, Maps
New Jersey ranks worst in the nation for ‘housing burden’ costs for those age 65 and older

About 25,000 New Jersey baby boomers are entering the ranks of senior citizens each year. But most of the state’s municipalities are not terribly friendly places for them, financially or practically.

A recent study
by New Jersey Future found that the state’s senior households — those headed by someone age 65 or older — bear the greatest burden for housing costs in the nation.

Using estimated data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2008-12, the report found that 47.5 percent of the state’s senior households were spending 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs.

The above map is based on those numbers, which generally provide a more reliable picture because they encompass a five-year span. More current statistics, from 2014, show New Jersey’s seniors remain the most cost-burdened homeowners in the nation: 42 percent paid at least 30 percent of their gross income for housing costs in 2014.

In no other state did that rate exceed 40 percent of homeowners age 65 and older. Only seven other states — all but California were located in the Northeast — had between 30 and 40 percent of seniors spending $3 of every $10 in income on housing, with Connecticut having the second-highest housing-cost burden, at about 38 percent.

“New Jersey is a high-cost state in general – for housing and plenty of other things – but those costs are more acute for 65-plus households, whose incomes tend to be more limited,” states the report, “Creating Places to Age in New Jersey: Housing Affordability and Aging-Friendly Communities.”

The problem is statewide. According to the report: “The highest rates of cost-burdened older householders – and the highest rates of cost-burdened households overall, irrespective of age – both tend to appear, unsurprisingly, in places with high percentages of lower-income households, particularly in the heavily urbanized counties closest to New York City. But the places where cost burden is a notably bigger problem for older households than for the rest of the population – once we correct for the background level of household incomes – tend to be newer low-density suburban areas dominated by large single-family detached homes on large lots.”

Data from the report present a mixed bag of cities and suburbs with the highest percentages of housing-burdened seniors: 77 percent in Loch Arbor in Monmouth County, 71 percent in Orange in Essex, 69 percent in Hamburg in Sussex, and 68 percent in Irvington in Essex.

Tim Evans, NJ Future’s research director, said the report was a natural outgrowth of a study issued two years ago that sought to determine which New Jersey municipalities were the best places for seniors to live.

“We were looking for places where recommendations targeted specifically at making the housing stock more senior-friendly might actually make a difference, rather than places where the problem is simply that they have a lot of low-income households, or places where the problem is that everything is expensive, no matter what the age of the householder and no matter what housing type you’re looking at,” he said.

Last month’s study found that communities with the most senior-friendly development patterns also tended to be among those least affordable for seniors. The proportion of senior homeowners paying more than 30 percent of income for housing in aging-friendly municipalities — those with centers, compactness of development , and good road and public transportation networks — was 10 percentage points higher than in communities lacking these characteristics.

In addition to Orange and Irvington, more than 60 percent of senior homeowners also faced housing-cost burdens in the aging-friendly municipalities of Weehawken, Cliffside Park, Rochelle Park, Perth Amboy, Belmar, Rutherford and North Bergen.

But there are some aging-friendly places where fewer seniors are paying a disproportionate amount for housing: Only about 16 percent of seniors in Flemington and 29 percent in Highlands Borough in Monmouth were housing burdened.

“The high rates of housing cost burden in aging-friendly places argue for a closer examination of whether these places are providing appropriate and sufficient housing options for older residents,” the report concludes. “Finding ways to produce a larger quantity of aging-friendly housing options in places with aging-friendly design characteristics will be an important strategy for accommodating the needs of the coming wave of aging New Jerseyans.”