Lakewood’s real estate isn’t as cheap as it used to be. If prices continue to go up, it is likely that many young couples won’t be able to afford a house here. Will Lakewood’s children be able to live in the vicinity in years to come?
Explosive demand for housing
Some things are challenging to predict, but the growth of the frum community isn’t, bli ayin hara. If the average frum family has 4–8 children, the need for housing easily triples or quadruples every generation! Lakewood’s 40,000 children will b’ezras Hashem become 20,000 households which will require accommodation.
In the past, a rural Lakewood struggled to develop thousands of homes and related infrastructure as the community grew. Today’s urbanized version will definitely grapple with accommodating the exponential growth, significantly impacting Lakewood’s real estate prices. While there will always be ebbs and flows in a real estate market, skyrocketing long-term demand means prices should continue rising.
An expanding supply
On the other hand, the supply of homes is increasing quickly as well, with Lakewood’s zoning continually shifting toward denser development. In theory, even if full border to border, Lakewood can build upwards, creating a NYC South. Also, as neighboring towns become viable options for frum settlement, much of the population overflow is shifting there, easing some of the demand and price spikes.
Since generally, residents pay a premium to live within a reasonable distance of shuls and friends, current owners are encouraged to sell, thereby expanding the widening circle of the community. If the supply of available homes increases to match the demand, pricing growth could remain reasonably stable (though localized price shifts will always occur as particular neighborhoods fall in and out of favor).
There’s a limit to growth
If enough new housing is built, prices can remain in check, but unfettered development in Lakewood will slow down at some point. As traffic increases to epic proportions and infrastructure like utilities strain beyond capacity, it will become increasingly difficult politically, financially, and logistically to keep construction going. (Unlike NYC, Lakewood has no subway nor the finances for vast capital improvements.)
And as the adjacent neighborhoods in Jackson, Toms River, Brick, and Howell fill up with frum families, others are forced to venture further and further away from Lakewood’s schools, shuls, workplaces, and shopping. Unless these towns become more accommodating to the needs of Orthodox Jews, it is questionable how far people will be willing to settle from the Lakewood institutions they depend on. While some “pioneers” already spend hours ferrying kids to and from school, it remains to be seen if these areas are viable options for frum settlement. And if the supply of new housing options falls short, prices can skyrocket.
Coming full circle
However, before panicking, it pays to think back to the fundamental economic concept that as prices rise, demand tends to fall. If Lakewood’s (and nearby towns’) prices rise too much and as the quality of life diminishes (another form of cost), demand will begin falling as other communities become more favorable by comparison.
The same way young couples have left Brooklyn en masse because of high prices and low quality of life, the next generation may well leave Lakewood if it truly ends up becoming NYC South. Already, various “out-of-town communities,” including Cleveland and Detroit, have experienced a surge of newcomers, and many Brooklyners decided to replant themselves in Staten Island, rather than Lakewood. The very price increase created by excess demand leads to lower demand and then lower prices at some point afterwards. If this back-and-forth reasoning is somewhat confusing, don’t be surprised. The interplay of supply, demand, and pricing is always shifting, which is what makes specific predictions about future pricing so tricky.
More interesting than whether our children will be able to buy in Lakewood might be whether they’ll even want to settle here. In addition to less expensive housing and congestion, young yeshivah couples may seek the simple life of some new, small yeshivah town versus the city Lakewood has become. Perhaps someone will plant the seeds of America’s next yeshivah settlement, beckoning the next generation far from the hustle and bustle of Ocean County.
Think it can’t happen? Neither did most anyone in Brooklyn consider in 1980 that a declining vacation town on the Jersey Shore would become a bustling frum city. Until Mashiach comes and we miraculously all fit comfortably in Eretz Yisrael, new locations will always be needed.
Let’s appreciate what we have
Many people complain about the downsides of Lakewood’s growth without also acknowledging the outstanding benefits enjoyed here. More building means additional traffic, but the increased construction also provides housing for newlywed family and friends. Perhaps the zoning board is too accommodating, but everyone cheers when their shul or school gets its vital approvals. Property taxes keep going up, but we’re glad to have courtesy busing and special-education funding.
We may not agree with all askanim’s political solutions but need to consider how antagonistic or apathetic are the towns where they don’t get involved. Any child left behind is a tragedy, but it’s a marvel how Lakewood has expanded school seats by tens of thousands over the past 20 years! Appreciate the many people who bled for that. There’s a reason why thousands are still streaming to Lakewood: the grass is pretty green here if you remove your tinted glasses.