This week marks the latest installment in City Paper's ongoing series "After Riley" presented in conjunction with Lowcountry Local First, Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C. Community Loan Fund, Coastal Conservation League, and IfYouWereMayor.com. In it, candidates have been asked to answer a series of questions regarding culture, commerce, and livability. Candidates have responded with no knowledge of any other participant's answers.
The series will culminate on Sept. 30 with a forum put on by these organizations. The forum is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP at YourCharleston.org.
The cost of living in Charleston does not align with wages. What would you do to address this?
Residents want to live in Charleston because we are a fun, interesting, and diverse city. For Charleston to remain a vibrant city, it needs to work for all its residents.
No one working full time should have to live in poverty. Minimum-wage workers are our school bus drivers, home healthcare workers, and daycare providers — people we rely on to care for our families, but who are not paid enough to care for their own. In Charleston, 19 percent of residents live below the poverty line. We've got a lot of work to do.
As mayor, I will lead an effort, working with others, to create intensive software coding academies so citizens can seize the good technology jobs already here and more coming our way. We'll be the strongest possible partner in the regional Cradle to Career initiative, including the expansion of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Career Academies.
To make Charleston affordable we also need to address the cost of housing. The rule of thumb is that no more than 28 percent of a household's income should be used for housing. Today more than 50 percent of the households in the region spend about 50 percent of their income on housing.
As a councilman I have supported lifting the entry-level wage for city employees to $10.60 an hour, and I will approach the other public and private entities to voluntarily do the same to achieve One Charleston: A City That Works for Everyone.
Let's look at who this question really impacts. Lower-level environmental tech employees, tourism service workers, college students, people who have been out of the workforce for some time. Unless the skill set is dramatically impacted, these folks will continue to live from paycheck to paycheck. The group with the best opportunity to keep pace will be the college crowd and those who seek advanced technical training, which is why at Midland Park Community Ministries, we push people to improve their technical skills so that one good stable job with a livable wage will cover three or four pieces of jobs with no stability. Reversing this tide long-term has to start with childhood education. We already know that kids who don't get off to a good start in kindergarten tend not to do well in third grade, which threatens eighth grade and graduation. We've got to start as early as possible preparing for high-paying jobs.
In order to address the increasing cost of living in Charleston, we must begin to streamline city administrative services and approval processes to create a predictable environment for businesses to prosper and put more people to work. But more importantly, we must equip our citizens with quality education and training so our workforce can meet the needs of the burgeoning manufacturing, aeronautic, and digital industries in the Charleston region.
As a current member of the House budget writing committee, I successfully advocated for the allocation of $20 million for the Aeronautical Training Center at Trident Technical College in this year's budget. This money is vital to readying our workforce for the high-paying job opportunities that Boeing and the aeronautics industry provide.
As mayor, I would continue to fight for job training and quality public schools to address the wage gap that exists — not just in our city, but across our region and state.
As a city, we have several tools at our disposal to bring our cost of living into better alignment with our prevailing wages, and I plan to use all of them.
In the short term, we must work on the cost side, in particular by making affordable housing and lower-cost transportation options available to citizens throughout the city, because you simply can't succeed in our economy without a decent roof over your head and a reliable way to get to and from work every day.
Then, in the medium and the longer term, we need to focus on wages by aggressively recruiting the kind of high-skill and knowledge-based businesses that pay well and training our students and citizens to fill those jobs.
In addition to those sorts of initiatives, I would also encourage small business formation and growth in the city by streamlining city business services and incentivizing small-business development in the areas of our city that are currently underserved and need it most.
We have to encourage private business to continue investing in Charleston. By investing in projects, such as micro-housing and mixed-income developments, we can help with the increased costs of living currently felt by Charleston residents. As mayor, I will ensure Charleston is open to private investment and unnecessary burdens to job creation are eliminated so our economy can grow and good jobs are available.
In addition to leading the conversation about affordable commercial real estate and housing, I will focus on education and workforce development in order to encourage higher wages for our citizens.
We have done well recruiting high-quality employers in software development, IT, finance, higher education, tourism, and aerospace. However, we are missing a key element to our economic development approach. It isn't enough to simply have job opportunities, we must find ways to tie local residents into these opportunities through training and education. As mayor, I will help forge partnerships between area technical schools and colleges and the industry leaders, so that our residents can fully realize the benefits of the job opportunities in our city.
Additionally, we must always find ways to support small business growth so that our local business owners can afford to expand and pay quality wages. We can start accomplishing this by cutting the red tape for small businesses at City Hall.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Responses have been placed in alphabetical order.