Mayor: Charleston fighting gentrification using affordable housing

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston's population has exploded recently, but the number of blacks living in the city is diminishing.

Some say it's the result of gentrification with blacks being pushed out to make room for the wealthy.

Charleston is one of the premiere tourist destinations in America. Millions visit yearly, charmed by her history and sophistication. But lately it seems some are staying .

In 1980, Charleston's population was around 70,000. Today, 120,000 people call the holy city home.

Grace McConnell moved here a few years ago. Her apartment is five minutes away from the College of Charleston. It sits in the middle of what used to be an all black neighborhood.

Business developers quickly capitalized on the economic opportunities. But the population explosion has also caused a population shift. Charlestonians who've been here all their lives are finding  themselves being pushed out by the ones who've just come here.

"Charleston has changed radically. When I came to Charleston, it would be rare to find a diverse presence on the east side.That's becoming more and more common.,"said local pastor Rev. Joe Darby.

Thirty years ago, Charleston's racial makeup was 53 percent white to 47 percent black. Today, blacks make up only 26 percent of the city while whites account for 69 percent. While whites are coming to the city en masse, blacks are leaving.

"They're not coming back. Why would you come back to some place that priced you out," said former Anthony Bryant a former member of the Charleston Board of Zoning Appeals.

Bryant addressed the mayor and city council earlier this year. He says because blacks are being priced out of the city, they are also being pushed out of the political process. Voting districts in the city are drawn out based on the racial breakdown from the census.

And census numbers show that blacks are leaving the city and peninsula. In 1990, there were nearly 23,000 blacks living in downtown. Today, just over 12,000.

"Based upon the price points in Charleston housing market, based upon the influx of people coming to Charleston, we'll be down to probably one seat in 2020. That's my prediction," Bryant says.

"We're going to have a very different city council this time around. Because as far as color goes, our city is very different. The city is going to have to look at diversity again," said Darby.

"It's going to hurt us. We need the vote, we need that representation we need our supporters to echo our concerns which means we need that African American person in office," said Charleston resident Teresa Boone.

"We went down to Mayor Riley's office 10 years ago and said,'Mayor Riley we're warning you, you've got to stop pushing Black families out of Charleston,'" community activist Jerome Smalls said."You're causing anger. You're causing hatred. He's not listening."

"I think that Charleston is a wonderful story of an inner city that has become revitalized and neighborhoods have been strengthened by the people who live there," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said.

Mayor Riley says he's pleased with the racial diversity in neighborhoods. He acknowledges that a number of blacks have left the city, but says that is out of his hands.

"What we can do is what we've done. Provide additional affordable housing every year," said Mayor Riley.

The mayor and others say gentrification isn't a matter of race but economics.

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