If you made the average hourly wage in New Jersey of $19.10, you'd have to work about 62 hours a week to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment and the rest of life's necessities.

Earning minimum wage, about 108 weekly hours of work would be necessary.

According to the annual Out of Reach report, New Jersey ranks as the seventh-most expensive state for renters. The report, jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, includes 2019 data only.

"The data does not at all reflect the COVID-19 pandemic, so I am, as many of us are, terrified to see what the numbers will be like at this time next year," Staci Berger, president of the Network, said during a Tuesday morning webinar releasing the findings.

In order to adequately afford a modest and safe rental in New Jersey — meaning no more than 30% of income is used on housing costs — a family must earn an hourly wage of $29.69, according to the report. In New Jersey, the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,544.

The Network said 20 of the 30 largest occupations pay median wages less than the housing wage. Renters make up more than a third of the state.

"Absolutely the biggest problem we have here in the New Brunswick community is the high cost of rent," Odelia Hernandez said through a translator on the webinar. "As renters, as tenants, we're just doing our best to work hard to pay our bills and our rent. We're not asking for anything free, we're just asking for fairness."

Hernandez, a mother of three, said her husband works two full-time jobs and barely brings in enough money to pay rent and meet other needs.

"And now all of a sudden in the middle of this pandemic ... the landlord informed us that she's going to start charging us for parking and water," Hernandez said.

Once the Garden State is no longer under a public health emergency, a moratorium on evictions will remain in place for an additional 60 days. Berger fears a "tidal wave" of evictions and foreclosures once this window and mortgage forbearance programs subside.

"We need real serious, significant help in the Garden State to make sure that the COVID pandemic does not become a housing crisis," Berger said.

Specifically, housing advocates are urging passage on the federal level of the HEROES Act, which would provide $100 billion in rental assistance. On the state level, housing advocates want additional action on a proposed law already approved by the Senate that would offer rent relief and mortgage forbearance for those impacted financially by the pandemic.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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