Extended-stay motels, like the one where two toddlers were found dead earlier this week, are becoming more popular among Charleston-area residents who have fallen on financial hard times.
Motel operators and representatives from local social service agencies said the business is growing rapidly. Although people from all income levels and walks of life use the facilities, more single people and low-income families are flocking to the less expensive ones. They stay in them while trying to save money to move into more permanent housing. That process can take months, sometimes years.
Sue Hanshaw, chief executive officer of Tricounty Family Ministries, said in the past four years, her nonprofit organization has helped about 600 families "make it back to the mainstream." About 70 percent of those families have spent some time living in an extended-stay motel, she said.
Jay Patel, owner of the Star of America Motel in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood of North Charleston, where patrons pay by the night or by the week, said four new extended-stay motels have recently opened in Charleston County.
Hanshaw said that unlike trying to rent an apartment, people checking into an extended-stay motel don't have to have a full month's rent, a security deposit, deposits for utilities or furniture, or good credit.
Hanshaw said she thinks the demand for the temporary housing has been brought on by factors including a lack of affordable housing and an influx of residents moving here for jobs that fall through once they arrive.
Michelle Mapp, program director of the Lowcountry Housing Trust, said the average rent for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties is $882 per month. A minimum wage worker would have to work 132 hours per week to afford that apartment, she said.
Timeshie Whetsone has been living for the past two months at The Willows on Remount Road. It also was the home of Sametta Heyward, the mother charged this week with homicide by child abuse in the deaths of her two children.
Whetstone recently moved to the area from Atlanta and landed a housekeeping job at the Embassy Suites. She hopes that in another month she will have saved enough money to move into an apartment.
For now though, The Willows is a clean and safe place to live, she said. When she first arrived in the area, she lived in a North Charleston extended-stay motel that she described as "very unlivable and full of bugs." She was afraid to leave her door open, she said.
Willows manager Ricky Dyson, who charges residents $185 per week for the efficiency units that include a kitchenette, said he rarely has a vacancy. People usually stay at least a month or two. Some residents have been there for years.
Most residents are single people, he said, but he often rents to parents such as Heyward who have very young children. The motel doesn't have a yard or a playground, he said, so it's not suitable for older children.
Heyward was a very good tenant, he said. She was quiet, took good care of her children and paid her rent on time.
But ever since officers found her toddlers dead in her room Monday, he's been thinking about not renting to people who have children. He's not sure he can legally do that, he said, but he's going to look into it.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or email@example.com.