SOCIAL ISSUES

A new home for struggling families shines a light on affordability

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

A shift in focus for those finding housing — the homeless. Rather than arranging temporary shelters, one organization is instead opting for permanent homes. Correspondent Briana Vannozzi reports on help for those still Chasing the Dream.

On a quiet, tree-lined street in affluent Morris County, a new home is officially ready for move-in. It’s not the McMansion you might expect for the area, but the latest in a wave of multifamily affordable units for those struggling to find permanent housing.

“New Jersey is the sixth-most expensive state for renters in the country, and here in Morris County, every day eight households get evicted from their apartments. So that is just driving demand to homeless programs,” said Dan McGuire, CEO of Homeless Solutions

As rental costs continue to rise across the state, more than 3 percent in the last year, the number of evictions and newly homeless families are, too. Nonprofits like Homeless Solutions are focusing more resources on permanent, stable housing, in tandem with shelters and transitional units.

“Because Morris County is so affluent, that means the rents are much higher, so I think the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment right now is close to $2,000, especially in Morristown. For most of the families that we see they don’t even earn that much in a month,” said Shannon Muti, Homeless Solutions women and family services manager.

In fact, in New Jersey, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is just over $1,400 a month, which means you’d have to make more than $58,000 a year or at least $28 an hour in order to not spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing costs. But according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average New Jersey renter makes just over $18 an hour.

“There’s just no way that they would be able to pay a market rent so they get stuck in this vicious cycle where they’re bouncing from shelter to shelter, sleeping on floors and they never have that sense of security,” said Muti.

“We want to put people, take them off the street and put them into permanent housing where they may succeed with the security and comfort of having those four walls and a key to a door that’s theirs,” said McGuire.

Homeless Solutions has already completed 86 units around the county. The bottom unit of a home in Morristown will house a single mother and her children, fleeing a domestic violence situation. All of the housing is placed in walkable communities, close to resources and other wrap around services.

“It’s a daily challenge trying to make sure people who work in Morristown, or the Morristown area, can find affordable housing in terms of homeownership or rental housing,” said Tim Tansey, director of Morris County Community Development.

There are two more projects in the works in this neighborhood alone. Once they’re complete around this time next year, they’ll have roughly 14 family units. While county officials say that’s a start, no sooner are they built, more families are in need.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.