Panel: Affordable housing growing problem in region

A scarcity of affordable housing is a growing problem for the Charleston region, experts say.

Everyone at a housing summit in North Charleston Friday agreed affordability is a growing problem in the Lowcountry. Solutions proved more elusive.

“More than 50 percent of the households in the region spend about 50 percent of their income on housing,” said Michelle Mapp, executive director of the South Carolina Community Loan Fund.

A standard rule is that about 28 percent of income should go toward housing for principal, interest, taxes and insurance.

“We are setting ourselves up for a perfect storm,” Mapp said, referring to the inevitability of rising interest rates and the increasing costs of owning a home in the Charleston region. The area also recently made the dubious honor as one of seven overvalued housing markets in the country.

The median home price in the region is about $220,000 and growing at about 2 percent for the year, according to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

“Builders are building, but not enough affordable housing for families,” said summit panelist Lauren Newman, an agent with Carolina One and a member of Charleston Young Professionals.

Newman said millennials are not going to live with their parents forever, but “what they want is not out there” on the market. “They don’t need a four-bedroom home, ... but maybe a condo or townhouse with low maintenance.”

She also believes if builders started offering patio homes, they would sell out quickly.

Regulatory hurdles, political entrenchment and people against change and growth add to the affordable housing problem, summit attendees said.

“You are either growing or you are dying,” said Joseph Minicozzi, principal of Urban3, a Asheville-based consulting company.

It takes about 931 days for a 50-lot subdivision to make it through the approval process, said Mary Graham of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

“If we could look at shortening that process, it would help with that issue,” she said.

Electing leaders responsive to housing affordability also resounded through the summit.

“We continue to vote in candidates that are in total opposition to what we all know is needed for the region,” Mapp said.

As long as people oppose upscale high-density developments such as The Boulevard in Mount Pleasant and Sergeant Jasper on peninsular Charleston, there is little chance for low-income, high-density developments to become a reality, Mapp said.

There has to be a change in people’s mindsets to see the value of high-density developments that offer affordable housing, she said.

Jon Arian, a summit panelist and founder of Mount Pleasant-based communications firm SeaChange, suggested people invest in Mapp’s affordable housing group, reach out to elected officials and recruit better candidates if they are serious about changing longtime beliefs.

“We are a globally competitive region now,” Graham said, referring mainly to the Boeing campus in North Charleston as being one of three places in the world that make commercial airplanes. “We have to start thinking vertically instead of horizontally to help our traffic issues.”

She said traffic is interrelated with housing because if people have to drive long distances to get to jobs because they can only afford houses farther away then it exacerbates road congestion.

Panelist Steve Warner of the industry-recruiting Charleston Regional Development Alliance said some businesses could be losing job candidates because they don’t want long commutes.

“There is more than one way to get somewhere other than in a car by yourself,” he said. “Other urbanized areas have figured this out, but we haven’t.”

Developer Vince Graham of the I’On Group of Mount Pleasant wondered if it’s time to rethink zoning by leaning more toward bedrooms per acre than houses per acre.

“Charleston is going to grow and continue to grow,” he said.

He said creating more affordable housing is a must.

“If we don’t have the supply, it’s going to cause costs to go up and push people farther out,” he said.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.