From the NYT:
Would you live in Newark if your boss paid your rent for a year?
That was the question that Audible.com, the audiobook company, posed to its workers when it announced a housing lottery in January. The 20 winning employees would get $2,000 a month in free rent for a year if they signed a two-year lease at the newly restored Hahne & Company building in downtown Newark, a 10-minute walk from Audible’s headquarters.
Of about 1,000 employees in the company’s Newark and Jersey City offices, 64 applied. In March, the company, which has 16 global locations, expanded the offer, pledging a $250 monthly rent stipend for a year to any employee who lives in, or moves to, Newark. More than two dozen employees have taken advantage of that offer.
Audible is among a handful of companies around the country to offer housing assistance to its workers, although such benefits tend to happen in areas where the cost of living is extraordinarily high, which is not the case for Newark.
Only about 70 Audible employees working in the headquarters live in Newark, and that number includes those who took the company up on its housing offer. About a quarter of the company’s New Jersey-based employees live in New York City and Jersey City and the rest commute from elsewhere in the tristate area, coming from as far away as Connecticut.
Many Audible workers suffer through long commutes not because they can’t afford to live near where they work, but because they don’t want to. So for Audible, the incentive isn’t really about money; it’s about Newark. “Clearly what they’re trying to do is to get people to give Newark a try,” Mr. Lubell said.
Audible’s founder and chief executive, Donald R. Katz, has been something of a cheerleader for the struggling city, ever since he moved the headquarters to Newark from Wayne, N.J., a decade ago.
Conference rooms are named after notable natives like Aaron Burr, Gloria Gaynor and Shaquille O’Neal. Two years ago, the company helped start an incubator, Newark Venture Partners, to lure fledgling technology companies to the city. And next year, Audible will expand into three buildings on nearby James Street, including the Second Presbyterian Church from 1811, which Mr. Katz calls a “tech cathedral.”
For Mr. Katz, persuading workers to live in the city is a logical next step now that developers are pouring money into housing downtown. The first project to catch his eye was the Hahne department store at 50 Halsley Street, which underwent a $174 million renovation to build 160 apartments, a Whole Foods Market and a Rutgers University cultural center. “Young people want to be pioneers,” he said. But Mr. Katz, who is 65 and lives in Montclair, a wealthy suburb about 10 miles away, has no plans to move to Newark anytime soon.