It’s hard being popular. Or at least it’s hard to find affordable housing in a city as popular as Charleston. By now you’ve probably read that Charleston recently surpassed Columbia as South Carolina’s most populous city. With an estimated 34 new arrivals each day, according to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, plus new births of babies in the area, which average about 11 a day, it’s little wonder that the demand for housing in the Charleston area has rapidly increased.
Economics 101 teaches that when demand increases, so will price unless the supply also increases to meet demand. With Mt. Pleasant seeking to stem growth and James Island also exploring moratorium options over new construction, local municipalities have been more intent on slowing new housing and apartment construction rather than encouraging it. According to the most recent data from February 25 to May 24, the median sales price for homes in the Charleston area was $271,000 while the median rent per month for apartments in the Charleston area for the same time period was $1,850. The Chamber of Commerce estimates the median household income for 2017 in the Charleston area to be about $52,971. The United State Census report indicates that housing expenditures which exceed 30 percent of household income have historically been viewed as an indicator of a housing affordability problem. With all due respect to Houston, Charleston — we have a problem.
Some in our local government are trying to address this problem. In April of this year, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg along with representatives from other South Carolina cities were lobbied for legislation that would allow local governments to require housing developers to include either a percentage of affordable units in new building projects or pay an additional fee. State Senator Marlon Kimpson also introduced the South Carolina Inclusionary Zoning Act, which would specifically authorize counties and municipalities to use inclusionary zoning strategies to increase the availability of affordable housing within their respective areas. Inclusionary zoning is defined as a tool for creating affordable housing opportunities by requiring developers to rent or sell a percentage of their units at below-market prices to families and individuals with qualifying incomes.
Sadly, Kimpson’s bill did not move forward to become law, in part because of stiff opposition from the state home builders and real estate agent associations. These groups argued that the bill would cause more harm than good, and the Home Builders Association of South Carolina went so far as to characterize the bill as “forced charity.” Lindsey Jackson, a representative of the South Carolina Association of Realtors, argued that the cost of offering housing at below-market prices would be passed on to consumers and landowners.
Ultimately, if municipalities such as Charleston do not have enough affordable and workforce housing, citizens will pay the price anyway. Housing prices will continue to climb, and commute times for everyone will only increase as more and more people travel further distances to find housing options that meet their budget. It therefore behooves the entire community to support affordable housing initiatives such as the kinds of policies enacted by Charleston and Greenville, and the bill sponsored by Senator Kimpson.
We should all be justifiably proud to live in a city as popular as Charleston, but with that pride should also come a responsibility to make sure our city does not lose the qualities that make it special. If living in Charleston becomes so cost-prohibitive that only the moderately wealthy can afford to buy and rent homes here, then we will have lost much of the economic diversity that makes Charleston special. Hopefully we can come together to support initiatives which help to prevent this from happening.
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