GEORGETOWN — Affordable housing has been a topic of conversation in Georgetown County for months and even years, but the term "affordable" does not have a universal, numerical value.
Technically, "affordable" is supposed to be 80 percent of median wages in the county, said Brian Tucker, director of economic development for the county.
"But if you're a two-income household and you make 120 percent of that average, your definition of affordable is different than somebody that makes the average," Tucker said.
Based on the most recent census data, the average household income was just above $48,000 per year, making the technical definition of "affordable" housing in the county $800 a month. But, according to the county, average monthly rent in the county is between $1,000 and $1,500.
To address the differing definitions of affordable housing, and ensure residents are not overburdened by housing costs, Bowen National Research president, Patrick Bowen, presented a study on county housing needs to county and city officials on April 8.
The main takeaway from the study is there is a dire need for housing options for low to middle income earners. Targeting these earners can encourage younger residents to stay and join the workforce, the county said.
The study found, though, that more than half of the projected growth in the next five years will be in the Waccamaw Neck, where most of the available housing in the county exists.
But these homes have a median sale price of $389,000 — well out of the price range of the average earner, who can only afford rental housing with rents of up to $994 per month or purchase a home less than $125,000, according to the study. As of right now, options for these residents are few and far between.
"What’s happening is we have a huge demand for lower and middle income housing. Every single subsidized apartment available to lower income residents in Georgetown proper is full with long waiting lists for occupancy," Tucker said.
"Then the middle income earners — our nurses, teachers, police officers, firefighters — struggle to find a place to live anywhere except on the Waccamaw Neck, and on the Waccamaw Neck there’s no inventory in their price range."
Additionally, senior households are expected to increase by more than 17 percent in the next five years, while households under 35 are expected to decrease by almost 7 percent. In the state of South Carolina, senior households are expected to increase by 18 percent while households under 35 are expected to remain stagnant.
The study also found that of homes sold over last two years had a median sales price of $290,000. The highest prices — and 80 percent of the sales — came from the Neck, with the lowest prices coming from the southwest portion of the county, just outside Georgetown city limits.
Tucker said solving this issue will be a matter of both developing new property and investing in rehabilitating properties that already exist — but the high cost of new developments presents its own problems.
The study says an apartment would have to rent for a minimum of $1,100 per month and a house would have to sell for $300,000 to generate an average return on investment. In order to make the cost of development more affordable for developers and enable them to create affordable housing opportunities for residents while still making a profit, government would need to offer some type of incentive or assistance.
Potential incentivizing is something Tucker hopes to discuss with city and county officials going forward.
Tucker also noted that the study is not a solution, only an assessment of a problem.
"We know that we are a destination for retirees. We also know we have been losing the younger demographic for a number of years. We need to determine a path forward that allows us to attract the younger generation and maintain the quality of place that our retirees love,” Tucker said.
The study recommends the following:
- Broad base of housing development alternatives
- Initiatives that help offset the costs of residential development, particularly the development of affordable housing
- New housing product in most areas of the county due to its diverse needs
- New residential product, as the lack of available and affordable housing appears to be limiting economic growth and hurting local employers
- Product design considerations should take into account the growing and desired household segments to be served
Invites to the presentation were sent to policy and investment stakeholders such as county and city council, county and city planning commissions and real estate developers. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, public attendance was not allowed, though press was.