NORRISTOWN - Purchasing an affordable home in affluent Montgomery County is no easy financial task, particularly for first-time homebuyers.

But renting an apartment is not much more of a bargain, according to the staff of the county planning commission.

Staff planner David Clifford, citing statistics culled from the 2000 U.S. Census, said rents in the county are the highest in the five-county Southeast Pennsylvania Area.

Montgomery County's median gross monthly rent, which means half were higher and half were lower, in 2000 was $757.

The Census defines gross rent as the contracted rent plus the average monthly cost of utilities, such as electricity, gas, water and sewer, and cost of fuels, such as oil and coal.

The median monthly gross rent in 2000 in surrounding counties includes: Chester, $754; Bucks, $736; Delaware, $662; and, Philadelphia, $569.

Nationally, the median gross monthly rent in 2000 came in at $602 while in Pennsylvania it was $531.

Montgomery County's median gross rent jumped 28 percent in the last 10 years, a $164 increase from the median gross rent of $593 in 1990.

That is not as bad as it appears, Clifford added. If the 2000 rental figure was adjusted for inflation, it would actually show a 1.8-percent decrease in the cost of rentals since 1990, he said.

The majority of municipalities with the highest gross rents are in the central section of the county, with Lower Gwynedd, and its median gross rent of $1,209 a month, leading the pack, according to Clifford.

The other Top 10 Montgomery County high-rent municipalities include: Whitpain ($1,154), Limerick ($991), Montgomery Township ($976), Skippack ($963), Upper Gwynedd ($922), Lower Merion ($904), Upper Merion ($898), Upper Dublin ($890) and East Norriton ($887).

While Worcester was ranked 23rd among the county's 62 municipalities in median gross rent, the township had the highest percentage of rental units exceeding $1,500 a month. The township in 2000 had 128 units, or 34.9 percent of its rental stock, which exceeded rents of $1,500 a month. Lower Merion had the highest number of actual units in that category, 587, but those units amounted to only 11.1 percent of that township's rental units.

The majority of the 10 municipalities with the lowest median gross rents in 2000 were boroughs and these boroughs primarily were located in the western end of the county.

Red Hill, with a median gross rent of $403, was the lowest. Lower Moreland was second with a median gross rent of $488 but Clifford attributed that anomaly to a concentration of subsidized elderly apartments in that township.

The remaining eight municipalities with the lowest median gross rent in 2000 were: Pottstown ($544), Pennsburg ($555), Douglass ($556), Rockledge ($568), Schwenksville ($572), Green Lane ($583), Telford ($595) and Salford ($601).

The following is a list of some of Montgomery County's 62 municipalities, the 2000 median (half are more, half are less) gross rent in each and two categories of gross rents. The information was provided by the Montgomery County planning commission and based on the 2000 U.S. Census statistics:

Bridgeport: $631 median gross rent; 165 units (17.2 percent) with gross rents from $300 to $499; 69 units (7.2 percent) with gross rents from $1,000 to $1,499.

Collegeville: $675 median gross rent; 29 units (8 percent) with gross rents from $300 to $499; 30 units (8.2 percent) with gross rents from $1,000 to $1,499.

Limerick: $991 median gross rent; 30 units (3.1 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 444 units (46.5 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

Lower Merion: $904 median gross rent; 275 units (5.2 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 1,480 units (28.1 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

Lower Providence: $807 median gross rent; 53 units (3.6 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 222 units (15 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

Norristown: $632 median gross rent; 1,058 units (17.3 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 305 units (5 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

Pottstown: $544 median gross rent; 1,098 units (27.8 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 117 units (3 percent) with gross rents of $1,00° to $1,499.

Royersford: $640 median gross rent; 135 units (15.3 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 79 units (9 percent) with gross rents of $1,00° to $1,499.

Skippack: $963 median gross rent; 20 units (6.7 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 123 units (41 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

Trappe: $760 median gross rent; no units with gross rents of $300 to $499; 53 units (22.2 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

Upper Merion: $898 median gross rent; 43 units (1.2 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 1,095 units (29.9 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

Upper Providence: $825 median gross rent; 61 units (9.5 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 175 units (27.3 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

West Norriton: $835 median gross rent; 167 units (9.5 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 304 units (17.3 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY: $757 median gross rent; 6,610 units (9.1 percent) with gross rents of $300 to $499; 12,887 units (17.7 percent) with gross rents of $1,000 to $1,499.

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