Affordable apartments can be found

The 13 duplexes at the William Enston Homes on the Charleston peninsula are part of the area’s inventory of “workforce” rental housing. File

It’s no secret that rents in the Charleston area are high and rising, particularly in desirable areas such as the Charleston peninsula and Mount Pleasant.

From college students who pay $900 monthly for a bedroom in a shared apartment to couples looking at $2,500 and up to rent a two-bedroom unit in a newer building, it’s clear people across the income spectrum are stretching to pay the landlord.

What many people don’t know is that there are “workforce housing” apartments scattered throughout Charleston, about 1,000 of them. These aren’t housing projects, they aren’t government-subsidized, and many are available to people with above-average incomes.

The trick is finding them.

The Charleston Housing Authority owns most of the workforce rentals, including the 420-unit Ashley Oaks complex in West Ashley. Other choices range from the brick duplex apartments built in 2007 at Enston Homes, on the peninsula at King and Huger streets, that rent for $875 to $900 a month, to the 28-unit Blakeway Apartments on Daniel Island, where two-bedroom units fetch $1,250 to $1,350.

You won’t find these listed on the authority’s website, but you can call 843-720-3970, or email info@chacity.org, and ask them about workforce housing rentals. The authority essentially operates the rentals at cost, to people at different, specific income levels.

Don Cameron, the Housing Authority’s executive director, said turnover is low at rentals such as Enston Homes, and there is a waiting list.

So, who can get a “workforce housing” rental? You have to have enough income to afford the rent, but not so much income that you exceed the limits.

Moderate income is considered to be 80 percent to 150 percent of the median income for the area. Median income is the point where half the people earn more, and half earn less, so 150 percent of median income is well above what most families earn.

“Low income” is not what many people would consider low, at up to 80 percent of area median income. The income ranges depend upon family size.

So, in the Charleston metro area this year, the median income is $66,000 for a family of four, $59,400 for three, $52,800 for two and 46,200 for one. A family of four with a yearly income of $99,000 (150 percent of area median income) would qualify for some workforce housing rentals.

Even a “low-income” workforce housing unit would allow for an income of $52,800 for a family of four, or $37,000 for a single person.

In addition to the housing authority’s extensive but hard-to-find inventory, there’s a small amount of privately owned workforce rental housing.

Those rentals are typically apartments in new, luxury buildings including Elan Midtown and East Central Lofts on the Charleston peninsula, and The Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. Those “workforce” units exist because the developers got zoning perks, such as being able to build a larger building, as incentives to rent 15 percent of the units at below-market prices to people with “low” incomes, or 80 percent of the median.

Those apartments fill a very narrow niche, because the below-market rents are still pretty high, as much as nearly $1,000 a month for a small one-bedroom or efficiency. So, a single person can’t earn more than $37,000 in order to qualify, but they must be able to spend 30 percent of their income on rent.

Income limits rise with family size, but a larger family may also need a larger apartment. A two-person family, such as a married couple or a single parent with a child, would have to earn no more than $42,250.

In Mount Pleasant, the zoning incentives to create workforce housing rentals were eliminated last year. That means The Boulevard is the only apartment complex in the town with workforce rentals, and for now, no more are planned.

In the city of Charleston, a total of 76 additional workforce housing rentals are expected soon, as these developments are completed: Crowne at Live Oak Square (Johns Island), 511 Meeting St. (peninsula), and Courier Square (peninsula). The investors in Courier Square, under construction at Meeting and Columbus streets, include Evening Post Industries, parent company of The Post and Courier.

So, how to you get one of these privately owned, below-market-rate apartments? Unfortunately, there is no formal system to track availability, so you have to contact the apartment complexes individually and ask.