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Charleston needs thousands of affordable housing units in next decade to meet demand

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New affordable housing on Charleston's East Side includes flood prevention measures (copy)

A new study indicates Charleston may need an extra 16,351 affordably-priced homes and apartments over the next decade. File/Mikaela Porter/Staff

Charleston may need an extra 16,351 affordably-priced homes and apartments over the next decade to keep up with the expected population growth and ensure housing in the city is accessible for people in all income brackets.

A new study conducted by the city examined Charleston's current affordable housing crisis, and it explored what needs to be done by 2030 to boost the city's housing stock and make rents and mortgages more affordable. 

The research, which will feed into the city's new comprehensive plan, found that roughly 42 percent of Charleston's current residents are "cost burdened" when it comes to housing. That designation means those individuals and families spend more than 30 percent of their income every month just to keep a roof over their head. 

That finding is largely the result of housing costs in Charleston growing at a much faster clip than income levels in the region.  

In the past 10 years, rent prices in Charleston spiked by more than 51 percent, according to the city's research, and the median sales price for homes in Charleston ballooned by more 54 percent. Yet over the same time period, the median income for residents in Charleston increased by 31 percent.

That financial reality makes it much more difficult for people, especially lower-income workers, to find affordable housing options. 

During a meeting this week, Geona Shaw Johnson, Charleston's housing director, emphasized that the findings from the housing study were nothing new. But the research, she said, drives home the need for Charleston to find solutions to the housing crisis to make sure the city continues to be a place where an average family can afford to live. 

The city's affordability problems, according to the new study, are unlikely to get better over the coming decade unless developers go on a building spree and the city is able to foster more housing projects that lock in affordable rates for lower-income families. 

Part of the issue is supply and demand. There aren't enough homes and apartments currently available in the city to help hold down rent and mortgage prices. 

That's why city staff is considering recommendations to help expedite the review process for new developments in the city. They are also weighing recommendations to expand permitting for more dense developments, such as townhomes and condominiums. 

But speeding up construction for private developers is unlikely to solve all of the city's housing issues. That's especially true for Charleston's lower-income residents who can't easily afford homes and apartments priced at the current market rates. 

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That's why the city is also trying to figure out how to assist in the construction of more housing units that are set aside for people who earn less than Charleston's median income, which comes out to $56,700 for an individual and $81,000 for a family of four. 

In recent years, the city has contributed to those types of affordable housing projects by donating land or subsidizing part of the construction effort. The rent or purchase prices for those homes and apartments are then capped for decades to come, ensuring that housing continues to be available to lower-income individuals. 

The city and its affordable housing partners will have to drastically expand those efforts if they are going to keep up, however. 

Affordable housing units needed between 2020 and 2030

A new study conducted by the city of Charleston estimated the city could need an extra 16,351 affordably priced homes and apartments over the next decade to keep up with the expected population growth and ensure housing in the city is accessible for people in all income brackets. City of Charleston/Provided 

The new housing study suggests thousands of affordably-priced homes and apartments will be needed throughout the city in the coming decade, including nearly 4,485 additional units on the peninsula, another 6,653 units in West Ashley and more than 2,500 units on Johns Island. 

That is a monumental task considering roughly 94 affordable units per year were built or preserved in Charleston on average over the past two decades. 

The biggest need moving forward is housing for people earning less than 30 percent of Charleston's median income, which comes out to roughly $17,000 per year for an individual or roughly $24,000 per year for a family of four. 

The new study suggests Charleston will need more than 9,000 additional housing units for that income bracket alone.  

The city's analysis noted how majority-Black neighborhoods in the city were more than twice as likely to be burdened by their housing costs, and it noted how the median income for Black households in Charleston was $44,000 less than the median income for White families. 

Eddie Bines, a housing program manager for the city, took part in the meeting this week where members of the public could discuss the 10-year housing analysis.

Charleston leaders, Bines said, need to help the general public recognize how big of a problem the affordable housing shortage could be for the city. He also emphasized the affect it could have on gentrification and the city's long-term residents. 

"We don't have enough urgency behind it," Bines said.

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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