Charleston voters face a $20 million decision on affordable housing in upcoming election

Referendum vote set for Nov. 7

For many Charleston voters, the decision to increase the city’s affordable housing fund will be the only decision on the local ballot this November.

Earlier this year, Charleston City Council backed a resolution to send a $20 million bond referendum to voters Nov. 7. If approved, the additional funds would be used by the city and its partners to increase the available stock of rental housing through land purchases, construction of new housing, and the preservation and restoration of existing housing.

In the most recent State of the Nation’s Housing report, the Joint Center of Housing Studies at Harvard found that more than 42 percent of renters in the Charleston-North Charleston metro area dedicate more than 30 percent of their annual income toward housing costs. Researchers also found that exactly 23 percent of Charleston-area renters — or approximately 21,800 households — spend at least half of their income on housing.

Of course, as rents continue to rise across the area, not all local residents face the same impact. According to U.S. Census data across Charleston County, those earning less than $20,000 per year are almost twice as likely to spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing compared to those earning more than $50,000 annually.

According to the city’s 2017 Bond Referendum Strategy, the areas of focus for increasing and improving affordable housing stock would be the peninsula, West Ashley, and James and Johns islands. If approved by voters, the $20 million would create an estimated 800 additional affordable units across the city. The completed units would be marketed jointly between the city and developers, and the city would seek to collaborate with both for-profit and nonprofit developers.

“Rental homes constructed will target incomes at the full spectrum of need to include incomes ranging from 30 percent of the area median income to 120 percent AMI,” states the city’s proposed strategy.

Charleston’s area median income in 2017 was set at $68,800 based on a family of four. In order to ensure that these new affordable units remain that way, the city would seek to attach covenants to units financed with bond funds to establish a minimum affordability period of 30 years.

Charleston isn’t alone in facing an affordable housing crisis. The 2017 Out of Reach report published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition claims that no one in the United States earning minimum wage and working a standard 40-hour week can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market value without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. According to the report, a person earning minimum wage would have to work 61-78 hours per week to comfortably afford a one-bedroom apartment.

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