Report: 40% of N.J. renter households can’t make August rent because of COVID-19

Landlord Tenant Law book and key from home. (Courtesy of BigStock)

Landlord Tenant Law book and key from home. (Courtesy of BigStock)

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About 40% of renter households in New Jersey — some 450,000 households across the state — will be unable to afford rent for August due to the financial stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.

That number is even higher if you only look at communities of color, which are already feeling a disproportionate impact from the outbreak. The report found that nearly half of Black renters will be unable to pay rent next month.

The report was written by the consulting firm Stout for a coalition of New Jersey advocacy groups. The firm’s findings are based on analysis of data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. 

“It’s not just an issue of individuals being homeless and individuals being displaced,” said James Williams, the director of racial justice policy at Fair Share Housing Center, “but the actual financial impact to local economies, to municipalities, and to the state as a whole is a lot larger than some are predicting.”

As the state continues to grapple with a public health crisis and record-high unemployment, countless residents across the state struggle to eke out their rent and mortgage payments each month. Housing advocates say eviction could lead to homelessness and long-term instability for residents who are at risk, especially Black people and other people of color.

Gov. Phil Murphy previously instituted a ban on removing renters who are evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic, a policy that will remain in effect until two months after New Jersey’s public health emergency ends.

The state opened a $100 million rental assistance program that will provide up to six months of financial aid to households chosen through a lottery system. Residents can also use their security deposits to pay rent.

But Williams said anything short of a significant rental forbearance plan — one without high interest rates and fees — would leave hundreds of thousands of residents who rent their homes in danger of eviction and financial ruin.

“We’re asking for a fair and reasonable repayment plan, recognizing that landlords and developers need their money. But you can’t draw blood from a stone,” he said.

The authors estimated that the unpaid rent from the last few months of the pandemic was about $687 million and suggested the total economic impact of housing instability and a surge in evictions could reach into the billions of dollars.

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