pc-072817-bz-realestate (copy)

New homes are on the rise in northern Mount Pleasant, part of the booming Charleston region. Leroy Burnell/Staff July 25,2017

Housing in Mount Pleasant is expensive. In fact, the fast-growing town is among the priciest communities in the region.

A family would have to earn more than $140,000 per year to afford a home in the town, according to a recent Post and Courier report on the Charleston area’s housing affordability crisis. The average rent runs between $1,500 and $1,900 a month.

That’s a problem for the thousands of retail, hospitality and service workers who don’t earn enough to live in Mount Pleasant and have to commute into the town every day. Less than a third of the town’s workers can afford to live there. Really, affordability is a problem for everyone who drives in Mount Pleasant. With all of that commuting, traffic is bad.

The town has pursued transportation solutions like road widening and better connectivity alongside needed improvements to bike and pedestrian accessibility and CARTA bus service. But perhaps the best way to cut down on traffic congestion long term and improve quality of life is to help more people live close to where they work.

So Mount Pleasant’s Workforce Housing Committee is right to suggest that the town create a nonprofit organization to help channel government funding and private donations into housing affordable to families earning between $55,000 and $82,000 per year.

It’s a smart idea and one that has been experimented with in other municipalities in recent years.

Greenville City Council voted to do something similar in October and Charleston voters approved a $20 million bond referendum this month that will help the city build more affordable housing.

In Chapel Hill, N.C., a private non-profit acts as a go-between for developers required by city rules to set aside a certain percentage of affordable units and homebuyers.

Other combinations of private and public programs operate in dozens of municipalities around the country, with varying degrees of success.

State legislators could help the situation by changing the law to allow cities to add to their zoning codes requirements that developers set aside a certain number of units as affordable housing. In Charleston, for example, incentives exist but the city cannot mandate the construction of workforce housing.

But Mount Pleasant is in particularly dire need of an aggressive effort to create housing affordable to people who earn slightly more or less than the regional median income. An ongoing moratorium on new apartment developments combined with recently-quadrupled impact fees will only increase the cost of housing in the town, exacerbating the existing problem.

A nonprofit initiative would be a good way to provide an affordable housing supply even as the town struggles to better manage growth more broadly.

Indeed, solving Mount Pleasant’s affordability crisis would help resolve a lot of the other issues that have irritated town residents over the past few years. Affordable housing should be a priority.