Build a Thriving NJ Housing Summit Explores Affordability Solutions
More than one hundred Union County residents joined members of the local faith-based community and community development sector for a discussion this week on housing affordability in New Jersey at “Build a Thriving NJ: Union County Housing Summit.”
The summit explored solutions and steps local residents and housing advocates can take to engage decision makers in a proposal that will boost economic activity to build a thriving New Jersey.
“We can build a thriving New Jersey by making sure we can afford homes in the communities where we work and live,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ (the Network). “Our elected officials need to support investments that are going to lift our economy. By building homes we can afford and revitalizing our communities, we can create thousands of new jobs, support businesses and boost economy activity throughout the state.”
NJ ranks high among states with shortages of affordable homes. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, NJ only has 29 affordable homes available for every 100 households. The scarce supply of affordable rentals and starter homes is particularly burdensome for Union County residents where
a family must have an annual income of $52,960 to afford a modest two-bedroom home – the median income is $40,685.
“In Union County, a family needs to earn $25.46 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment,” said Richard Brown, chief executive officer of Monarch Housing Associates. “The median income is lower than that so we are in an affordable homes crisis that hurts our families. That is why we are participating in the housing summit and working together to Build a Thriving NJ.”
“Build a Thriving New Jersey” calls on the next leaders of the state to invest $600 million annually into homes residents can afford. The Network launched the “Build a Thriving NJ” campaign to boost the state’s economy through a plan that creates afford home opportunities and jobs for NJ residents.
The State previously invested in ten community development programs but over the last decade but much of the funding has been diverted or abandoned. Several of the programs housing advocates say will help “Build a Thriving NJ” include:
- The Affordable Housing Trust Fund,
- The State Rental Assistance Program,
- The Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Program (NRTC),
- Lead Poisoning Prevention and Weatherization, and
- Homeless Service Programs.
The summit allowed local residents the chance to share their personal housing struggles and discuss solutions as well as civic engagement strategies with community leaders.
City of Elizabeth resident Rise’ Grady shared how despite living in a small studio apartment and having full-time employment, she has trouble making ends meet. Grady and her daughter are looking for a new home that they can move in to together, pooling their resources to pay the rent.
“The working class has been forgotten in the housing market,” said Grady. “We need to find a way to make homes affordable for all of us.Many working people, like myself, have to decide between paying rent or buying food.”
Joining Grady and other housing advocates and community leaders were:
- Deacon Tim Williams, First Baptist Church, Kenilworth;
- Pastor J. David Knecht, Holy Cross Lutheran Church;
- Arnold Cohen, senior policy coordinator, the Network; and
- Raphael Kasen, community building specialist, the Network.
“We work to facilitate regular interfaith meetings in order to make way for the building of bonds within the interfaith community,” said Deacon Tim Williams, chair, Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council.
“Our faith-based members and community partners know all too well that an affordable place to call home in Union County is an impossible dream when a family needs an income of $52,8960 to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment. We are happy to host this housing conference so that we can all work together to Build a Thriving NJ.”
The “Build a Thriving NJ: Union County Housing Summit” was held at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Springfield and sponsored by:
- Community Access Unlimited,
- Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless,
- Family Promise Union County,
- Gateway Family YMCA,
- the Network,
- Iris House,
- Monarch Housing Associates, and the
- Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council.