Next to no commute and your boss pays your rent for one year? The catch? You have to live in Newark. Audible.com, the audiobook company, introduced the idea to its employees this January and held a housing lottery, reported the New York Times recently. If they signed a two-year lease at the recently restored Hahne & Company building in downtown Newark, only a ten-minute walk from Audible’s Newark headquarters, the 20 employees who won the housing lottery would receive $2,000 a month in free rent for one year.
Audible has offices in both Newark and Jersey City, totaling nearly 1,000 employees; 64 applied for the housing lottery in Newark. In March, the company made a smaller but similar offer to any employee across its 16 locations around the world–a $250 monthly rent stipend for one year for any employee who lives in or moves to Newark–and over 24 employees have taken Audible up on their offer.
Other companies across the country offer housing assistance for their employees, but it’s usually just that–assistance with the cost of living in established and expensive housing markets like New York City or Silicon Valley–not an incentive to stay in or move to what is still a city on the rebound. Only approximately 70 Audible employees working in the Newark headquarters actually live in Newark and that includes the 20 employees who won the housing lottery. 25% of the office lives in Jersey City or New York City and the rest commute from elsewhere in the tri-state.
The paradox is that many Audible employees slog through long commutes not because they can’t afford to live near the office, which is more often the case with the reverse commute to NYC, but because they just don’t want to live in Newark. But Audible’s Founder and CEO, Donald R. Katz, loves Newark and has invested in and supported the city for the decade since moving his company from Wayne, New Jersey. Audible is even expanding the footprint of their headquarters into three buildings on James Street and will include the Second Presbyterian Church, dating back to the 19th Century and what Mr. Katz promises to be a “tech cathedral.”
The supply of new residential, retail, and commercial space is on the rise as developers continue to take notice of Newark and develop or restore existing buildings like the former Hahne department store at 50 Halsley Street; the $174 million restoration project became Hahne & Company–160 apartments, a Whole Foods Market, and a Rutgers cultural center.
For some employees, the move has been an adjustment, and for others like Amy Garas, the executive assistant to Audible’s CFO, it’s been a “game changer,” freeing up two hours in her day every day which she uses to explore her new neighborhood. Deanna Paquette, a senior designer, is enjoying her one bedroom apartment for $2,450 a month that is twice the size of her previous $3,000 a month Williamsburg studio, but has felt the move most in her social life. Ms. Paquette, however, has all but eliminated her commute which used to be over two hours every day and finds she cooks more now.
The New York Times writer Ronda Kaysen points out in her piece, “Audible didn’t decide to help pay the rent because it was concerned workers spent too much time in transit. Yet this unintended consequence may be one that delivers the biggest impact… Shorten your commute and odds are you’ll be happier and healthier.”