Charleston at the "epicenter" of housing crises in S.C., according to new report 

Gimme Shelter

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SC Housing released a comprehensive analysis on the state of housing in South Carolina in August, detailing problem areas and the multiple crises that have arisen from them.

The Housing Needs Assessment tackles subjects like cost burden, rental affordability, shortages, homelessness, shelter poverty, and the eviction crisis. All of these subjects are problem areas in South Carolina, with Charleston seemingly on the frontline.

At first glance, the report could come across as negative, but Bryan Grady, the chief research officer for the group, believes it was necessary for the growth of the state.

"We are not just publishing something to say how bad it is," Grady said. "We are using that document to drive policy-making."

Grady, along with SC Housing spokesperson Clayton Ingram, hopes that policy change will come in the form of state-level legislation that could help rectify some of the issues that have embedded themselves in South Carolina.

Housing Woes

According to the SC Housing Needs Assessment, nearly one-third of South Carolinians are estimated to be experiencing shelter poverty, where housing costs far exceed the norm. In Charleston County, wages are out of pace with housing affordability, with a shortfall of $6.38 compared to the fair market rate to rent a two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30 percent of wages on housing.

Source: SC Housing Needs Assessment

"It's getting a lot of attention at the Statehouse and with our partners, nonprofits and developers," Ingram said. "We are using this information for a lot, and Charleston is sort of the epicenter for a lot of this stuff."

The list of issues discussed by this report may be extensive, but Grady and Ingram believe there are a few focus areas that should be of higher priority.

"I think the biggest takeaway is the shelter poverty analysis," Grady said. "I think that's sort of the most-new thing here."

Shelter poverty refers to an economic situation in which a household's housing costs far exceed the norm. Even if a resident's income puts them above the poverty line, they could be in shelter poverty if a disproportionate amount of that income goes toward housing costs, whether it be rent, mortgage, or upkeep.

"The term 'shelter poverty' comes from a strain of research from Michael Stone at the University of Massachusetts in Boston," Grady said. "The issue is that it's really hard to operationalize. The missing piece was figuring out how to quantify the essential non-housing spending."

This missing piece to the long-running research was found in 2016, when a study aggregated resources that figured the minimum spending level of those studied. According to Grady, this finally made further research into shelter poverty possible.

According to the Housing Needs Assessment, 585,300 households in S.C. currently experience shelter poverty — 31.5 percent of households for which an estimate could be calculated.

Part of the challenge of discussing these growing problems in the Lowcountry is that causes have been hard to pin down.

"There are a lot of things that lend to housing being more expensive," Grady said. "In Charleston specifically, it's supply and demand. There are a lot of people that want to live there and only so much available land to build on."

But supply and demand for property is only part of the problem in Charleston. While businesses continue to expand and build, residential areas and natural environments are continuing to shrink.

The abnormally expensive and declining amount of housing in the state has prompted action from researchers and community members alike, but there is only so much that can be done without legislators. Fortunately, Grady said that the solution really is as simple as one might think, in theory at least.

"You figure out how to increase people's wages, or you figure out how to decrease the cost of housing," Grady said. "We actually have a number of different programs out there designed to work with nonprofit entities to get people affordable, sustainable housing solutions."

Simple as these solutions are, they are more easily said than done. Grady said that one of the bigger parts of the issue isn't housing at all, but transportation. And this is just another factor that throws a wrench into possible solutions, most of which must come from local government and community programs.

"A lot of this is going to come from more localized solutions," Grady said. "You look at, not just housing, but housing and transportation. You have to be able to get to where work is, and certainly in Charleston that's been an issue."

While Grady focused primarily on the research into shelter poverty, Ingram found other problem areas to be the highlights of the assessment, such as the eviction crisis.

"When I first read the report, that was the part that jumped out to me," Ingram said. "We knew that there was an eviction crisis, and that South Carolina was the outlier. But seeing the towns where that was happening, Charleston, North Charleston, and St. Andrews, places where you weren't expecting — it was concerning."

According to the study, South Carolina has 89 evictions per 1,000 renter households in the state, significantly higher than Virginia, the second-highest state, which has 51. In all, 29 of the 50 highest small-place eviction rates by U.S. city are found in South Carolina.

Charleston is in the process of forming a Housing Court, similar to that of many other states, which will deal exclusively with housing issues such as those addressed in the Housing Needs Assessment.


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