Commentary: Vote ‘yes’ to expand Charleston County affordable housing efforts

The incredible demand for just one unit of quality affordable housing is yet another window into our region’s well-documented housing crisis.

Recently, Metanoia had an affordable home come open for rent. Within a week, we had 722 email inquiries, more than 100 phone calls and 35 applications. The incredible demand for just one unit of quality affordable housing is yet another window into our region’s well-documented housing crisis.

According to a Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce study, Charleston outpaces nearly every city in the country for the number of homeowners spending more than 30% of their income on housing expenses. The situation is worse for renters, with average rents having risen 42% in the past decade.

Our region’s housing costs are rising at twice the pace of income growth. A 2019 study found that Charleston County needs 2,600 affordable units each year for the next 10 years to keep up with the projected economic growth of our region. We are falling well short of this number, with fewer than 100 new affordable units being built last year.

An inability to afford a decent place to live once affected a relative few in our community. Now it affects many — and not just those who have trouble finding a home. If you sit in traffic on a regular basis, you’re affected since attainable housing often can be found only in outlying areas.

The lack of attainable housing also stunts our business growth. New businesses are opting not to relocate here once they see what their employees will need to pay for housing. This is why our local Chamber of Commerce is working hard on housing attainability in our region.

Charleston County voters will have a chance to help Nov. 3 by voting for a property tax increase to fund affordable housing efforts. When coupled with other efforts such as zoning reform, this new funding not only would lead to more working families being able to obtain housing. It also would reduce sprawl, improve our environment, create jobs and attract investment. More than 700 similar housing funds exist nationwide, including ones in Greenville, Asheville and Charlotte.

When properly stewarded, these new public dollars can attract private investment and create construction-related jobs. For example, Metanoia has been grateful to steward a public investment for affordable housing from the State Ports Authority that we were asked to operate in partnership with the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities. In three years, every dollar contributed by this group attracted another $9 of additional public and private investment to build housing that working families can afford.

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We are pleased to partner with the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, the Chamber of Commerce, the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities and the South Carolina Community Loan Fund among others to support Charleston County’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund effort.

We are grateful to Charleston County Council for unanimously agreeing to put this question up for a vote. We also support a thorough and transparent vetting process that would allow both nonprofit and for-profit developers to use this new funding to construct housing for many of our neighbors struggling to find fair-priced homes.

Such an effort should prioritize using this money efficiently and encourage leveraging existing expertise to identify, qualify and oversee projects countywide. When well stewarded, the fund can attract four to five private dollars for every public dollar spent.

Our partners are committed to working with the county to ensure that this money does the most good for the most residents as possible. The state’s Mescher Act will help because it constrains local governments to spend housing trust fund money strictly for affordable housing.

The family that moved into the Metanoia rental home with so many applicants moved out of a leaky and mold-ridden structure with high rent. As the massive application pool testifies, many others can benefit directly from a “yes” vote in the Housing Trust Fund Referendum. And all of us will benefit, if it passes, through better traffic, more jobs and a cleaner environment.

The Rev. Bill Stanfield is CEO of Metanoia, a North Charleston nonprofit.