Staci Berger, CEO of the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey, joined Brian Brodeur, TAPintoTV's Executive Producer, at East Main Media Studios, to discuss the state's current housing situation and in particular, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Berger, New Jersey has had a "very strong" housing crisis even prior to the pandemic. "People are really struggling to keep a roof over their head," she said.
Berger added that New Jersey frequently ranks in the top 5 of states where it's difficult for moderate-income families to afford two-bedroom apartments.
"Before the pandemic, people earning minimum wage had to work three full-time jobs a week to afford that apartment," Berger explained. "So when the pandemic hit, it became very difficult for people to pay their rent and to pay their mortgage."
She also added that the network was very grateful to Gov. Phil Murphy for adopting an eviction moratorium, which prevents people from being removed from their home, whether they are a homeowner or a renter, but also realizing that at some point, it will have to be lifted, and residents will need more direct assistance to keep roofs over their heads.
Brodeur talked with Berger about the Housing Stability Project Grant from the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund (NJPRF), which will allow the network to provide residents with access to housing counseling and legal assistance if needed. The network partners with organizations, such as Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, which provides comprehensive legal services to economically-disadvantaged adults, children and families in the state.
"It's to be able to answer questions for people like 'How do I make sure my landlord is treating me fairly?,' 'How do I make sure that I'm not paying more than I should?,' How do I protect my credit rating?,' and 'How do I check to make sure my rent is being used properly?,'" she said. The organization never charges for their counseling services. “Good quality housing counseling is always free,” Berger added.
Berger noted that the network would also like to ensure that landlords are able to recoup some of their losses. "We expect that there'll be some back and forth between tenants and landlords to try and get those bills paid," she said. "We want to make sure that everybody is coming to the table, in a fair and reasonable way."
For more information about the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey and services they offer, visit them online at www.hcdnnj.org.