Millennials are Leaving New Jersey, But It’s Not Too Late to Bring Them Back
by Josh Anderson
JERSEY CITY, NJ — Everyone has heard about the millennials, according to Peter Kasabach, Executive Director at New Jersey Future. “Everyone knows that they’re driving the real estate markets, they’re driving decision-making in our communities,” began Kasabach when addressing CapRE’s 2018 New Jersey Forecast in late December. “We did a study recently that confirmed that is the case in New Jersey…they are in fact moving to compact, walkable places. They’re in fact moving to large cities. That’s not a myth.” However, their importance isn’t quite so simple. Kasabach cautioned that one thing most Garden State citizens may not know is that New Jersey has been losing its millennials.
“The rest of the country has seen an increase in millennials of about 6%, but New Jersey has lost our millennials by about 2%,” he revealed — pointing out that this is despite the fact that millennials are the largest generation since the baby boomers. “And that’s troubling. So we looked at the reasons for that. There are two in particular. One is that new Jersey is a very expensive state. So as millennials are coming into the workforce, just starting to get their salaries and their incomes underneath them, it’s very hard to stay here. So they’re often times moving out of state.”
The second reason, however, is a bit more troubling. Kasabach said that New Jersey is not doing as good of a job as we could creating the kinds of place is that Millennials want to be. We’ve all heard great stories about Jersey City and Hoboken. However once you get beyond Jersey City and Hoboken, it drops pretty quickly, as far as where millennials want to go. My office is a pretty good example – we’re located in Trenton, but we have three people that commute from Philadelphia. Because Philadelphia is a place that they want to be. So, we’re not creating these kinds of places. And that’s a very important issue.”
“I came from the development world,” continued Kasabach. “As we look at individual projects to do, we’ve got to put them in the context of the places that we’re doing it. In places like Jersey City and Hoboken, you have the government who has helped shape that. They’ve held shape their land use policies, they’ve helped shape the fabrics for these projects. As we start to go outside of these places, we have to got to start to be proactive in helping create these places – places that are walkable, dense, have a mix of uses, and offer a mix of different housing types. It’s not always enough to depend on the local government to be doing that – we as developers have to be advocates as we go forward.”
However, Kasabach reported that New Jersey actually does have some great “bones” in place for great revitalization in hopes of attracting more residents and workers. “We have 243 transit stations,” he offered. “That’s an amazing number. We have 118 urban and suburban communities with the highest level of Smart Growth walkability, density and other features that we’ve identified. But it’s important to recognize that in order to create these tickets we’ve got to have the mix of uses. We’ve got to have housing as well as commercial and retail spaces. And when it comes to the housing, it’s not enough to just create the high end housing. We’ve got to look at how to create the mix of housing throughout. And it doesn’t just mean low income, affordable housing, it’s about trying to create those price points throughout the market.”
Kasabach also pointed out that sometimes “Smart Growth” — a term the New Jersey Future uses to denote development that incorporates the environment, equity and the economy to achieve a better triple-bottom line –– requires more than just bones. “As you head out [of towns like Jersey City and Hoboken], you start to see a lot of obsolete buildings – shopping centers, corporate campuses, and there is this trend to say, well that was an old corporate campus, we should just turn it into a new place,” he mused. “But that doesn’t work quite that well. The millennial generation – the people who are looking for these places – are looking for authentic places. The best place to start is our old communities – our downtowns, our main streets, and looking at bringing those places back. That’s where we’ll have the most success over time.”
Finally, Kasabach offered a positive outlook for New Jersey’s future. “Everyone has heard about transit-oriented development. You’ve also probably heard about New Jersey Transit, which isn’t doing so well,” he laughed. “So you can’t have transit-oriented development without good transit. And the good news on that front is that we have a new Governor, who has prioritized NJ transit. I think we will see the New Jersey transit system improved dramatically. I think we’ll see the Gateway Tunnel eventually built. Which will mean that all of these towns that have train stations will see an incredible increase in value, because we’ll have a transit system that can support the increased growth.’
New Jersey Future is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes sensible growth, redevelopment and infrastructure investments to foster vibrant cities and towns, protect natural lands and waterways, enhance transportation choices, provide access to safe, affordable and aging-friendly neighborhoods and fuel a strong economy. Peter Kasabach is the Executive Director of New Jersey Future. He has been actively engaged in the areas of housing and sustainable development and community revitalization for the past 20 years. Before taking the helm of New Jersey Future in December 2007, he was chief of policy and community development for the New Jersey Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency.