Mayors discuss need for more affordable housing

Updated: Mar. 24, 2021 at 3:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of Charleston will need nearly 17,000 new housing units by 2030 to address what city officials are calling an “affordability gap”.

Mayor John Tecklenburg says the term is used to describe the difference between households earning below 120 percent of the of the area median income and the number of housing units in existence that are priced below 120 percent of the AMI.

AMI for Charleston is a flexible number that is based on the household size. Therefore, 120 percent AMI for a single person is an income right around $68,000 a year and about $97,000 for a family of four. Needless to say, there’s a mismatch in how many affordable homes and apartments are available for all of the people who need them.

“I think the whole region is experiencing an affordability crisis as you see more people moving here and demand is exceeding the supply,” Tecklenburg said, suggesting an injection of new units is ultimately the best way to fix the problem. “We get there by investing some of our own funds, utilizing some of our fees that are dedicated to helping with affordable housing, partnering with non-profit development partners that build affordable housing and cutting red tape, making it easier to get approvals.”

Tecklenburg made the comments at a housing summit hosted by the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors on Wednesday. He was part of a panel of Lowcountry leaders discussing housing and the goals of their respective comprehensive plans. Other panelists included Mayor Will Haynie of Mount Pleasant, Mayor Keith Summey of North Charleston, Mayor Greg Habib of Goose Creek, Mayor Christie Rainwater of Hanahan and Supervisor Johnny Cribb of Berkeley County.

“We recognize the importance of having affordability in the City of Charleston. It’s very specific in the comprehensive plan as to where we want to see that happen,” Tecklenburg said.

The mayor presented a list of locations and the corresponding number of units he says will be needed in those areas.

LocationNumber of units needed
West Ashley6,353
Charleston Peninsula4,845
Johns Island2,505
James Island1,891

For many, living in Charleston is simply too expensive and they choose to look towards places like Goose Creek, Summerville and North Charleston. Mayor Keith Summey says they’re the hub connecting Charleston to all of the surrounding communities, and while there are still areas of affordable housing in his city, they too have started to see prices rise.

“The challenge is there but we have to make sure that we provide what I classify as workforce housing for the people who are working in the area and living in the area and make sure that it is affordable,” Summey said. “We cannot price people out of living in our community.”

The growth has its benefits. He says with many neighborhoods filling up, older, cheaper homes are being bought by people with extra space in their budget who can spend that money improving the property. He points to the Dorchester-Waylyn neighborhood as an example. On top of that, Summey says they continue to approve housing projected geared towards affordability.

“We have recently approved. . . a subdivision that is going to allow 220 affordable condos to be built for sale in the $170,000 bracket,” Summey said. “They’re three bedroom units off of the Remount Road corridor and will help provide housing for the working class folks including school teachers.”

The problem of affordable housing always seems to fall on the government or non-profits, but Summey says private business – even those not associated with housing – have a role to play as well. Summey and the city have asked business leaders to pay employees above the legal minimum wage so those employees can scrimp, save and eventually purchase their own homes.

“The city is trying to enhance what people can afford,” Summey said. “There is not a city employee who starts now for less than $15 an hour. We have asked businesses to do it. We have asked industry coming in to do it and if we don’t set an example, I don’t think we can ask them to do it.”

The rule of thumb for affordable housing is to spend no more than 30 percent of your income on housing. With minimum wage at 7.25, an employee would need to find a property for less than 400 dollars a month. As of right now, those properties are few and far between.

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