By Karsten Moran for The New York Times
During the pandemic, the Essex County township has attracted city buyers with its open space and relatively affordable housing — all less than 20 miles from Midtown.
Living in a Brooklyn apartment with two young children in the middle of the pandemic, Megan Melamed, 41, and Alex Abell, 39, started their search for a suburban home in Maplewood, N.J. But the couple, both social workers, soon realized it was out of their price range, so they turned to the nearby Essex County township of West Orange, where they eventually bought a 1915 house with four bedrooms in October 2020, for $457,500.
“It doesn’t take much to be in nature here,” Ms. Melamed said.
Jessica Frasz, 40, a graphic artist, and Andrew Frasz, 39, a photographer, moved to West Orange from Brooklyn with their two young children in the fall of 2019, paying $477,000 for a 1930s colonial. When the pandemic began a few months later, the family found that hiking in South Mountain Reservation, an Essex County park, “was something for us to do without coming into contact with people,” Ms. Frasz said.
It was the green space that drew Vanessa July, 30, and Garrett Banks, 33, to West Orange, after riding out the early months of the pandemic in Jersey City, N.J. Ms. July said she longed to be able to “step outside into nature, versus concrete.” The couple bought a four-bedroom house built in 1946 in March 2021, paying $475,000.
The couple, who are African American and work in technology, were also drawn to the multicultural mix: Of the township’s 49,000 residents, 41 percent identify as white, 27 percent as Black, 22 percent as Hispanic and 7 percent as Asian. “We care about having diversity in the neighborhood,” Ms. July said.
The township is also the site of several notable redevelopment projects. An older office park on Executive Drive is being turned into a mix of offices and apartments with a new public library. The old library, near the municipal building, is to be replaced by affordable senior housing.
What You’ll Find
About 18 miles west of Midtown Manhattan, West Orange covers 12 square miles on the first and second ridges of the Watchung Mountains, with views of the New York City skyline. The township is bounded by Livingston, Roseland and Essex Fells to the west; Verona to the north; Montclair to the northeast; Orange to the east; and South Orange and Millburn to the south.
What You’ll Pay
According to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service, in the 12 months ending March 25, 727 single-family homes sold for a median price of $498,000, compared with 754 home sales at a median price of $425,000 in the previous 12 months — a decrease in sales volume, Ms. McCampbell said, caused by a lack of inventory.
The Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center, an outdoor amphitheater owned by the township, offers music and theater, as does Luna Stage, a professional theater founded in Montclair.
The West Orange public schools serve about 6,600 students in 12 schools: one preschool, seven elementary schools, one sixth-grade school, two middle schools serving seventh and eighth grades, and West Orange High School. The student body is about 36 percent Black, 34 percent Hispanic, 19 percent white and 5 percent Asian, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.
The average SAT scores in 2020-21 were 570 in reading and writing, compared with a statewide average of 557, and 557 in math, compared with a statewide average of 560. About 85 percent of West Orange High School’s graduates continue to college, compared with 74 percent statewide.
West Orange doesn’t have a train station, but free jitney buses sponsored by the township take commuters to and from New Jersey Transit stations in neighboring towns. The train ride from South Orange to Penn Station in Manhattan takes 35 to 45 minutes; the fare is $7.25 one way or $210 monthly.
Some Some commuters prefer to drive about six miles to Newark or Harrison, and take the PATH train into New York. The trip from Harrison to the World Trade Center takes 20 minutes, and costs $2.75 one way or $104 for 40 trips.