Are local rentals out of reach? The average Pennsylvania worker can't afford decent housing, and New Jersey residents aren't faring much better, according to a new study.
Multifamily apartment units are 11 percent higher than last year and 20 percent higher than 2007, all while wages have stagnated, according to the Federal Reserve Index.
"Exposed brick open beam ceilings," described Nat Hyman, an Allentown developer who is in the midst of renovating his Linden Lofts apartment complex, which start at $850 per month.
Hyman's finished fifth floor is full, and he expects to easily sell out the rest. Since the NIZ went into effect, his rent prices have skyrocketed 15 percent to 20 percent and will go higher.
"Right now, it's good to be an apartment landlord," he said.
His prices could be considered cheap. A new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found a Pennsylvania renter needs to make $17.57 per hour to afford rent on an average two-bedroom home. That's $2.41 more than the average worker makes.
It's the seventh largest wage gap in the country and one 24-year-old Brittany Amparo knows well.
"I make a lot less than that, and it's tough." she said.
It took the Starbucks supervisor two months to find a place that fit her budget before finally finding Hyman's property.
"I couldn't find anything for $850 in a nice area. It was all $900 and up," she said.
In New Jersey, Garden State workers must rake in $25.17 an hour for a two-bedroom rental home.
"New Jersey has an affordable housing plan. It's called Pennsylvania," said Alan Jennings, a community activist.
Jennings said that's just one factor driving up prices. Home ownership is at its lowest point since 1989.
Jennings said the rash or foreclosures during the recent recession and the lack of home-buying from millennials are other factors driving up rent. With stagnant wages, Jennings said many can't keep up.
"That's is why the Sixth Street Shelter has 100 people in their shelter and why every other Lehigh Valley shelter is full," Jennings said.
Jennings, who serves on the board that oversees the tax-friendly NIZ district, said he's proposing requiring low-income housing be attached to new housing developments inside the zone.
"For every 10 units, one would have to have affordable to low to moderate income families," he explained.
Back at Linden Lofts, work continues in preparation for more rental contracts to come.
"The function of supply and demand. At some point, a threshold of where you can't go any higher, until we hit that rents will continue to escalate," Hyman said.
The cheapest state is South Dakota at $13.41 an hour while Hawaii is the most expensive at just over $31 an hour.