Stigma Stymies Woodbury Housing
Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Did you know that over 40% of Woodbury residents rent their homes? According to the 2018 Census Bureau ACS 5-Year Estimate, approximately 43% of Woodbury residents rent while 57% own their homes.
Housing, and the many problems and opportunities connected to it, have not been at the top of the City’s priority list for quite some time. And even with the recently passed ordinance to manage rental housing, the local government still hasn’t clearly laid out the problems(1), the people impacted(2), or sustainable solutions(3) to support all residents.
For starters, addressing the elephant in the room: taxes(1). In 2020, the average Woodbury homeowner had an assessed value of $139,361 and paid approximately $6,777.13 annually in property taxes. In 2020, the average tax rate of all 24 municipalities in Gloucester County was 3.68%, while the 2020 tax rate in Woodbury, however, was nearly 5% (4.94) making it the highest levy in the County. We’ve talked extensively about the tax problem here in Woodbury and we know that only sustainable leadership can turn the tide of our “ratable” woes and County seat status.
Still, it’s important to recognize that with such high tax levies and increasing tax bills, it will continue to get harder to attract potential new residents(2) who can afford not to live and own homes in Woodbury. But it’s also important that leadership recognize those who rent currently in Woodbury and want to move toward homeownership(1)(2) are left hung out to dry with the current housing status we’re dealing with too. Our platform pushes hard toward a more open and sustainable process for renters, renters moving toward homeownership, and homeowners(3) by 1) diverting irrelevant spending back into the Housing & Code Enforcement department to take absentee landlords to court for property code violations, 2) provide a public platform listing all vacant and abandoned properties in the City in need of repair, 3) develop a homeowner’s repair incentive to rehabilitate our deteriorating our housing stock, and 4) actively seeking out and working with local real estate agencies & banks to sell those rehabilitated homes.
Another major element of tension in the housing “debate” is about the stigma around renters(1) and renting in general. As we mentioned, 43% of our residents rent their homes rather than own, and out of that 43% that rent, almost three-quarters (74%) of those residents are people of color(2). So when we talk about housing, and renting specifically, and especially when creating ordinances or resolutions about housing, we cannot ignore the fact that these communities are the ones impacted the most. Recently, a resident shared a story during our townhall discussions about a Planning/Zoning Board member that made this stigma very clear (paraphrasing): “You have an in-law suite built on your property, and what happens to that suite when the in-law passes away? Will it be turned into a rental property?” This type of mindset about renting is so apparently inconsiderate on the surface, but it is also pervasive(1).
Regardless of race, socioeconomic status, education, age, or any other defining identifier Woodbury should be nothing less than a welcoming City that is excited to bring new residents from all walks of life into our community. Our platform will do this, while still handling the complexities we’ve laid out(3) by 1) creating a Landlord-Tenant Liaison to adequately handle disputes and attend to both landlord and renter’s needs, and 2) establishing resident-driven Housing Commission with representatives of Planning/Zoning Board, Housing & Code Enforcement, the Historic Preservation Commission, local real estate agencies, and renting & homeowning residents to proactively provide more access, resources, and information about housing opportunities & challenges.
The problems our City faces around housing will not go away by covering things up with dog-whistle rhetoric or pushing out “unwanted elements,” but rather through standing flat-footed and accepting the responsibility of being good stewards of the assets we already have. Our housing stock in Woodbury is actually very cheap (regardless of the taxes), the homes are absolutely gorgeous – some of the oldest and most historic homes in the State are right here in Woodbury – and the opportunities to bring in new residents, families, and future leaders is a good problem to have. We just need the right leadership to see that for what it’s worth and get to work for the people to make it happen!