How The Cost Of Rent Stacks Up In Benton County

Joyce Coates
Enterprise Staff
Every fiscal year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) surveys the nation to determine Fair Market Rent (FMR) in each county and metro area. HUD defines FMR as the amount, “including utilities (except telephone), to rent privately owned, existing, decent, safe and sanitary rental housing of modest (non-luxury) nature with suitable amenities.”
FMRs according to unit size, from 0 -  4 bedrooms, determine amounts paid through federal housing assistance programs like the Housing Choice Voucher Program (“Section 8”). For each additional bedroom, 15 percent is added to the 4-bedroom rate.
Cole Camp, Edwards, Ionia, Lincoln and Warsaw are included in the Benton County FMR area. Rents for the FY 2018 fiscal year (Oct 1, 2017 – Sep 30, 2018) are higher than 65 percent of the rest of Missouri, but lower than 78 percent of the nation (
•Studio/Efficiency - $474; 
•1 BR - $491; 
•2 BR - $653; 
•3 BR - $905; 
•4 BR - $1,019.
Ten years ago, Benton County FMRs were lower than 93 percent of the nation, and less expensive than 78 percent of Missouri.  On average for each unit size, rents are 25 percent higher. A growing population, the economic downturn that resulted in more renters than homebuyers, and landlord costs – taxes, insurance, maintenance and repairs; all contribute to rising rents.
•Studio/Efficiency - $326
•1 BR - $388
•2 BR - $501
•3 BR - $695
•4 BR - $720.
HUD randomly surveys 100 renters (previously 200) in each area who have moved within the last 24 months and sets the year’s prices based on the 40th percentile. The percentile formula is the number of samples times the targeted percentile. In this case, 100 x 0.40 = 40. The amounts are arranged in ascending order, and starting with the lowest, the 40th sample (rent) for each unit size becomes the FMR. 
Public assistance and low-income programs are available at apartment complexes in Cole Camp, Lincoln and Warsaw. Applicants who qualify have income at 30, 60 or 80 percent of the county’s median income, depending on each program’s requirements. 
According to, there are 8 low income housing apartment complexes and 633 affordable apartments for rent in Benton County; four in Warsaw, three in Lincoln, and two in Cole Camp. Another 611 apartments without rental assistance are considered affordable housing for low income families.
Using data from the 2010 Census and 2015 5-Year American Community Survey, the website reports 18.43 percent, or about 1,500 of the 8,149 households in the county are renter-occupied.
Some low-income housing in Cole Camp, Lincoln and Warsaw is for seniors only, such as the new Harbor West Villas in Warsaw, now near the end of construction and accepting applications.  Rents limited by statute and subject to change annually are based on HUD-based allowable incomes of not more than 60 percent of the median for each family size of 1 - 4. 
At least one member of the household must be 55 years of age or older; any others must be at least 19. One bedrooms, maximum of 2 persons, rent for $395 (average utility allowance $88.00); and two bedrooms, maximum of 4 persons, rent for $435 (average utility allowance $114).
“For Rent” ads published from November 2017 to the present were reviewed in the Enterprise, Lincoln New Era and Cole Camp Courier to compare market-based rents with HUD’s FMRs.  There were none for Lincoln, and only two for Cole Camp; the majority were Warsaw listings.   
Monthly rents for one-bedroom units range from a $300 mobile home to $650 for a house located 4 miles outside Cole Camp.  Two-bedroom rents range from $450 for an apartment to $609 for a rent-to-own home.  Three-bedroom rentals range from a $525 apartment to $955 for a rent-to-own home, and the only listing for a four-bedroom was a rent-to-own home for $616/month.
The HUD premise is that paying more than 30 percent of income for housing renders a person or family “rent-burdened.” Thus, regardless of the housing unit size, a renter paying $650/month should earn at least $26,000 adjusted annual income; or at least $38,200 to afford $955/month. listed Benton County median income at $33,428 in 2016, and median rent at $593 per month. Monthly housing expenses (rent and utilities), for example, at 30 percent of the median income with no other major expenses, would make $836 the maximum monthly payment. 
Yet the reality for some, is that housing costs each month amount to much more than 30 percent of income. Census data shows between 39 – 47 percent of renters are in the “burdened” category. County residents with low to very low incomes can get rent assistance from HUD Section 8, USDA Section 515, or USDA Rural Development Rental Assistance, etc.