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County rents among state's highest

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The median rent in Johnson County is higher than nearly every county in the state.

At $663 a month, the county’s median rent falls below only three counties in the state: Hamilton, Hendricks and Porter. The numbers are based on an average from 2006 to 2011 from the U.S. Census Bureau. As with other central Indiana communities, Johnson County’s proximity to Indianapolis, Columbus and other populated areas attracts people looking for jobs leading to a higher demand and, in turn, higher rents, experts said.

The median rate is high, but how much residents pay depends on where they live because prices vary widely in different parts of the county, local landlords say. For example, the Center Grove area — with steeper property values and closer proximity to Indianapolis — often has higher rents than other areas of the county.

For low-income residents, finding a place they can afford to live can be

difficult in Johnson County, said Christian Help executive director LaTheda Noonan. Christian Help is an organization that works to help residents find affordable housing.

When people come to them for help, they are given a list of places to look with lower rent prices. But when so many of the residents who come to them are below the poverty line, even those places aren’t affordable, she said.

“It’s very difficult to find lower income rentals,” she said. “(People who come to us) don’t have affordable housing, so they’re getting evicted or foreclosing.”

One of the problems Christian Help faces when trying to help people is a lack of housing options in different price ranges, Noonan said.

Suburban communities — unlike more diverse cites such as Indianapolis — tend to have consistent pricing, with few rentals that are very cheap or very expensive, University of Indianapolis associate professor of finance Matt Will said.

Rent prices are based on a variety of factors, most importantly local property values, Will said. Landlords set their rent based on how much money they have put into a property. That amount differs in the county. For example, in the Center Grove area, the median house price is $150,500. In Franklin, it’s $119,600, according to numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Geography also plays an important role in rent prices. Johnson County’s proximity to Indianapolis makes for a more competitive market and drives up prices,

especially in the northern part of the county, said Carol Rogers, deputy director at Indiana University Business Research Center.

“Johnson County is kind of in a sweet spot,” she said.

Landlord Al Wei owns 20 rental homes in the Center Grove area. He sets his rental rates based on the costs of purchasing, maintaining and paying the mortgage on a building.

“You’re really looking for return on investment,” Wei said. “It costs more to buy property (in the Center Grove area) than other places around. I think you’ll find the rent is very reflective of the prices of the properties.”

Wei rents four-bedroom homes in the Center Grove area for $1,000 to $1,400 monthly. Walter Roach, leader of a local landlord association, rents a similar-sized home in Franklin for $700 to $1,100 per month.

The same is true for apartment complexes, where owners also see what their competitors are charging, one leasing agent said.

At Westminster Apartments and Townhomes in Greenwood, competitor rates are studied to determine rental prices. The complex is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation, including a new pool, fitness center, tanning salon and business center.

The new amenities will increase rents, leasing agent Casey MacPherson said. Managers looked at other apartments in the area with similar features to determine the new prices and plan to increase monthly rent prices by an average of $201, a 33 percent uptick.

The renovations will bring the property up to the same standards as other complexes in Greenwood and match with the growth the city is experiencing, property manager Jenny Parks said. Occupancy is expected to be at 100 percent by the time the renovations are completed in 2014, she said.

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