Nobody was more surprised by Mount Pleasant’s decision to put a six-month moratorium on new apartments than Councilman Joe Bustos, the man who suggested it.
But then he turned around and surprised everyone else the next day by suggesting the town use that time to plan a way to build more affordable housing.
You know what? Neither are bad ideas.
Bustos’ colleagues were right on the one hand, that limiting supply is only going to drive up prices — and it’s not cheap to live in Mt. P. as it is. That is certainly the correct long-term prognosis.
Six months without new apartments, however, isn’t going to hurt anything — especially politics in the town, which are running decidedly anti-growth.
And honestly it won’t really have any effect on prices, either. Because rents are already beyond ridiculous.
Right now, you are lucky to find a decent apartment for less than $1,000 a month in Mount Pleasant, or much less than that in any part of Charleston County. Most places where you don’t have to worry about finding shell casings in the parking lot are far higher.
That includes “workforce housing” at The Boulevard, a place where the average broom closet runs $1,100 to $1,400 and many apartments go for more than $2,000.
People could buy houses for that kind of money, even in Mount Pleasant.
So Bustos has given the town’s new housing task force something else important to look at.
Perhaps the whole county should be studying this because it’s getting out of control and hurting those who can afford this highway robbery the least.
A couple of years back, a study said that the Charleston area’s apartment rents were rising at the fourth-highest clip in the nation.
That put us on a list with San Francisco, Seattle and San Jose, Calif. — not exactly the company you want to keep when it comes to cost-of-living increases.
Rent hikes might not be so bad if local prices were halfway grounded in reality, but they aren’t. Try finding a middle-class apartment in West Ashley for less than $800 a month.
Or try getting into The Standard — James Island’s own “Boulevard” — where a studio apartment, one about the size of the average garage stall, runs $1,300 or more.
Let’s put that in perspective. The government and most lenders suggest spending no more than 30 percent or so of your income on housing.
At that ratio, the ideal candidate for a starter apartment in a new apartment complex needs to make $52,000 a year. Per capita income in Charleston County is somewhere in the neighborhood of $31,000.
The median income for entire families — presumably families that can’t cram into 490 square feet — is $52,000.
So the question is, who exactly are these developers building these places for?
Uh, people who move here from off. They are the people with that kind of money.
This is fairly dangerous territory here.
No one in South Carolina is really hip to the idea of governments setting rents or telling developers what they can and can’t build.
Well, except maybe on the Charleston peninsula.
The workhouse housing incentives Mount Pleasant previously used on The Boulevard were so unpopular that the town ultimately repealed them.
No matter, that measure didn’t inspire more than a handful of “affordable” units — if you call $988 affordable.
You’d have to make a good bit more than the liberals’ idea for a minimum wage to afford such a place, and it would be impossible on a current minimum wage salary.
In fact, that “living wage” conservatives tout as perfectly fine wouldn’t get you a place anywhere other than a public housing project. So much for the American dream.
The Lowcountry is a victim of its own success. This is such a nice place to live we have 50 new friends joining us every day. Business is booming, so it’s hard to fault developers for wanting to build complexes that make some money.
So, no, they aren’t looking to build a bunch of nice $600 or $700 apartments when they can get twice as much or more. And unless the government wants to go all socialist, it can’t make them.
For that reason, it doesn’t really hurt to slow ‘em down a bit. They can’t raise rents much faster than they are now.
Don’t hold your breath, but maybe in six months, somebody can come up with a way that an average person making an average salary can afford an average place to live.
A place that is, hopefully, larger than the average booth at the restaurant where they work.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.