“The hits just keep on coming!” DJs used to say, meaning they’d play one great song after another, but lately that phrase has taken on new meaning. Now, we’re getting hit by one crisis after another. When we think we are beating the pandemic, new variants emerge. When the economy starts rebounding, inflation levels rock us again, and worsen a crisis of affordability.
That crisis is especially felt in housing. Though the overall cost of living in South Carolina is almost % below the national average, in 40 out of our 46 counties the average resident can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment. Even more troubling is that 24% of renters statewide spend more than half their annual income on housing.
Despite receiving $271 million from the federal government, South Carolina disbursed less than a quarter of that money. Only $69 million had been distributed to roughly 14,000 households. That comes out to less than $5,000 per household. But most people who desperately need this money haven’t received a dime. And for those who have, that relief is only temporary.
This problem is only getting worse. The counties we represent, Charleston and Richland, have already exhausted all federal funds allocated to help renters. Without further assistance, many will be unable to pay their bills and could face homelessness. Meanwhile, South Carolina has the highest number of evictions nationwide. In 2019, landlords evicted renters at a rate seven times the national average.
For too many people, it’s clear the status quo is broken. To fix this problem, we need to address the affordability crisis renters face, whether by building more affordable housing or changing the rental process. We’re proud to support proposals like inclusionary zoning, making it easier to increase affordable housing stock. We’ve also supported economic opportunity zones in low-income areas, and programs to help veterans, the formerly incarcerated, and more. These are good steps, but we can do more.
One obstacle to affordable housing for many is the upfront cash security deposit, which significantly increases the cost of moving. That can be a big challenge for many South Carolinians. One option to solve this that’s working across the country is low-cost security deposit insurance, like that offered by Rhino, where renters take out an insurance policy for as little as a few dollars each month. Solutions like security deposit insurance make it easier to move without the significant upfront costs that come along with renting.
Options like security deposit insurance make good fiscal sense as well. Traditional cash deposits tend to sit unused and it’s estimated that there’s between $255 million and almost $300 million sitting idly in escrow accounts statewide. Unlocking this money could help continue the economic boom that is making the Palmetto State one of the fastest growing states in America. We’re urging property owners to offer this alternative to renters for the simple reason that it makes renting more affordable while protecting landlords against unpaid rent and excessive damages.
We could all use a break from the seemingly never-ending hits. Our renters deserve better. They deserve affordable housing. They deserve stability. They deserve to provide a good life for their family. It’s time to get serious about not only investing in more affordable housing stock, but implementing housing policies that benefit all South Carolinians. So, it’s time to get to work for the people of South Carolina and improve our housing situation not just for the few, but for everyone.
Pendarvis, D-North Charleston, and Johnson, D-Hopkins, are members of the S.C. House of Representatives.
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