The Charleston region is growing with jobs and new home construction, but there needs to be a master plan to address the continued lack of affordable housing.
That was the theme of an inaugural affordable housing conference held by the nonprofit Lowcountry Housing Trust on Friday.
The event, titled “Housing Matters: A Tri-County Housing Summit,” was intended to kick-start a regional plan to combine private and public resources to grow affordable housing.
“We are recognizing that given where our wages for the region are and the housing costs, there is clearly a gap and we are seeing people are being priced out of our local market,” said Michelle Mapp, executive director of Lowcountry Housing Trust.
Officials on Friday said a worker must earn nearly $43 per hour to afford the average-priced home in the region and $16.60 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment. That could make it tough on a workforce of firefighters, teachers, police officers and secretaries who earn an average of $20 or less per hour.
Some of the factors increasing the region’s home prices include preservation codes, construction wages, higher material prices and high land prices in some areas.
Affordable housing has been an ongoing issue in the region of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, which affects everyone from seniors to young professionals, speakers at the summit said.
Last year, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance authored a “scorecard” that compared the region to similar-sized metro areas such as Savannah and Greenville.
The report concluded that the Charleston region ranked last compared to its counterparts in terms of housing affordability.
Mapp said a task force should be formed to map out solutions.
“The biggest issue has been understanding how housing connects to other broader issues in the community and we think of it as an after-thought, but it is essential to economic development,” Mapp said.
The dearth of affordable housing has forced families from living close to work, such as Charleston’s peninsula. As a result, commute times increase, adding to traffic congestion and straining the area’s transportation infrastructure, officials said.
Mitchell Silver, chief planning and development officer for Raleigh and president of the American Planning Association, said the Lowcountry could take a piece from his city’s playbook by addressing housing issues with long-term planning and looking at a region’s trends for current and future generations.
The summit also included presentations by local housing industry officials, service providers and elected leaders, including Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
“Affordable housing starts with good solid planning,” Riley said. “Make sure affirmatively that we lay out and create mixed-use communities that are walkable and have kids near schools and near parks and playgrounds, in addition to having a mixture of incomes as well as uses.”
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.