It is no secret that the City of North Charleston dislikes mobile homes. But the city’s efforts to slowly chip away at the number of mobile homes inside the city are apparently not working fast enough, so last week North Charleston City Council voted to rezone a portion of the Wando Woods trailer park, effectively kicking the residents living in the two dozen trailers out of their homes. Once rezoned and empty of tenants, the lot will become the home of the College of Charleston’s new Lowcountry Graduate Center. The City, the property owner, and the college should be ashamed of this accomplishment, and it appears that some of them might be.
First there’s City Councilman Todd Olds who, The Post and Courier reports, told the crowd at the Council meeting, “I want to make it utterly clear tonight that my heart goes out to these people [in the park].” He then added, “What I find disheartening here is when people come out and make it look like we are putting people out in the streets.” Well actually, Mr. Olds, people are saying that because that’s exactly what you’ve done.
Meanwhile, the owner of the land feels enough remorse to offer his tenants the remaining two months at the trailer park rent free. Wow, that’s wonderful. How about not selling the land out from under the people who have been paying you money for years as soon as a better deal came along? Sure, that’s “business,” but it’s disgraceful.
It’s hard to say if the folks at CofC feel any shame about this, but judging from their recent response to two near-campus sexual assaults — they sent out an email warning female students about the dangers of drinking, effectively putting the blame on the victims of sexual assault and not the perpetrators — I feel safe in saying the College of Charleston has no shame to feel in the first place.
This sad tale of displacement and development actually began last year when the Boeing Company decided to expand its South Carolina operations. In the process, the firm bought the 178,000-square foot building housing the current CofC Graduate Center and several other businesses and associations. But, for some inexplicable reason CofC was unable to locate a single vacant property anywhere in North Charleston that suited them and instead fixated on building a new property. Unfortunately, people lived there.
Not surprisingly, we’re getting the same old line about “property owners” being allowed to do what they want with their properties, as long as what those owners want to do is beneficial to city, county, or state governments, of course. Any public official who makes that argument should be swatted over the head with a rolled up copy of every ruling denying a property owner the right to do “what they want” with their property, such as the numerous property owners in North Charleston who can no longer rent mobile homes on their property to new tenants thanks to city restrictions.
Those same restrictions are going to rear their ugly heads again when the displaced people of the Wando Woods Park take up the property owner’s “generous” offer of helping them move their homes at no cost. I wish them luck getting a permit in North Charleston where the codes are written to keep older mobile homes from being used entirely.
The name of the game here is gentrification, and it’s no longer a process confined to urban areas like the Charleston peninsula, itself on its way to becoming a tepid paradise of shopping and tourist pleasures. According to the City of North Charleston, they want to encourage homeownership, but they don’t do that by requiring employers to pay living wages or by encouraging affordable housing opportunities or by clearing dead retail space for new homes. Instead, they just make it harder for people to rent affordable housing. While the city can claim a 9 percent increase in home ownership since 1990, chances are none of those new home buyers were former mobile home residents who decided to buy a house.
Policies such as North Charleston’s are a form of class war waged under the pretense of wanting people to achieve the American Dream, while destroying the actual lives of people whose only dream is to be allowed to live as they’ve been doing. Progress in this sense can be loosely defined as pushing the poor people out of town in order to keep the shrinking middle class from seeing where they are headed in the next decade or so.