Chester County Market Analysis
Chester County is the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania with a median household-income of $92,407, according to the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS), but like any area, it still has poverty and homelessness.
The County has a population of 516,312 citizens, many of whom have struggles related to poverty and high housing costs. An estimated 35,349 persons live below the poverty level in Chester County (U.S. Census, 2016 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE). This is a significant increase for Chester County, as the 4.5% poverty rate in 2000 was much lower than the 7.0% reported in 2016 (SAIPE, 2000; SAIPE, 2016).
There are 197,721 total housing units available throughout the county (2016 ACS). The median value of an owner-occupied housing unit in Chester County is $347,700, which is almost double the amount of Pennsylvania’s median value of $166,000 (2016 ACS).
The maximum allowable home value for Chester County’s first-time homebuyer program, as approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, (HUD), is $308,750. This figure, which is equal to the 95% of median home sale prices in 2017, reflects Chester County’s high housing values. To find affordable homeownership opportunities, buyers must narrow their choices to include fewer areas, which may offer less opportunity access, or explore different housing options that are more affordable.
The County currently has a rental vacancy of 5.3% and a median rent of $1,209 per month (2016 ACS). The rental vacancy rate for Pennsylvania is 5.9% with a median rent of $840. This comparison illustrates how Chester County has fewer available and affordable rental units than elsewhere in the state. There are 46,387 occupied rental units; of these households, 26,208 (56.5%) pay rents between $1,000 and $2,000 a month. The 2018 Fair market rents for Chester County further illustrate the challenge of obtaining an affordable rental unit. These rents, set by HUD, are:
● $1,047 for a one bedroom unit
● $1,266 for a two bedroom unit
● $1,587 for a three bedroom unit
● $1,787 for a three bedroom unit
Currently in Chester County there are a select number of places that individuals can live under these guidelines. These high housing costs and low vacancy rates make it extremely difficult for low-income residents to obtain stable housing even with full time employment. In Chester County, 25.7% of homeowners with mortgages and 17.4% of homeowners without mortgages experience housing cost burden, defined as contributing 30% or more of their income to housing costs (2016 ACS). Nearly half of renters in Chester County (47.3%) experience housing cost burden (2016 ACS). According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are fewer than 30 affordable and available rental units for every 100 households below 30% of the median family income threshold.
The living wage is the hourly rate that an individual must earn at 40 hours per week to meet basic living expenses. In Chester County, the living wage for an adult with one child is $23.64 (Poverty in America, Living Wage Calculator, 2016), while the minimum hourly wage in Pennsylvania is only $7.25.
Self-sufficiency measures how much income a family of a certain composition in a given place needs to adequately meet their basic needs without assistance. An independent analysis conducted by the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation found that a Chester County family of four with two adults, one school aged child and a child in preschool needs to make $77,234 a year (using 2016 Consumer Price Index measures) to be self-sufficient. A single parent with a preschool aged child needs to make $55,721 a year to meet the same self-sufficiency threshold. For Chester County residents with incomes below this level, particularly those working in retail or service jobs, obtaining safe, decent and affordable housing in an area of opportunity can be a significant challenge.