Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said at the 2014 Tri-County Housing Summit that he doesn’t want to see communities segregated by income. (Photo/Ashley Barker)
By Ashley Barker
Housing is not a problem, it is a human need — just like water — according to Charlie Smith, a real estate agent and member of the Charleston County Planning Commission.
“Everybody has to have some kind of shelter. We’ve gotten away from that in the work we do,” Smith said Friday during the second annual Tri-County Housing Summit at Trident Technical College. “We’re very generous toward people who are thirsty; we’re generous toward people who are hungry and haven’t had food; but we’re not always so generous to people who don’t have a place to live.”
Smith said more than a quarter of a million new residents are expected to move to the Lowcountry in a little more than a decade and there will be no place for them to live. The homes that will be available likely won’t be affordable, which leads to problems for the entire community, he said.
“If you are paying more than 30% of your income toward housing, you’re setting up an unsustainable environment. When that environment deteriorates, you get other problems,” he said. “You get foreclosures, homelessness, petty crime, all of these things that tear the community apart.”
The one solution, he said, is a coordinated effort to make sure that people have safe and affordable housing.
Changing the future
Homeownership is still an important component of what people see as “living the American dream,” according to Michelle Winters, a senior visiting fellow at the Urban Land Institute Terwilliger Center for Housing. But the housing landscape in America is changing, she said.
About 70% of citizens who were polled through a ULI survey last year said they believe buying a home is a good investment.
“In reality, it doesn’t always make sense for people,” Winters said.
The annual income a household would need to afford the 2013 median-priced home in the region — which costs $206,530 — is $68,843, according to the 2014 Charleston Tri-County Region Housing Blueprint, produced by Charleston Trident Association of Realtors and the S.C. Community Loan Fund.
To afford a two-bedroom apartment at the region’s fair market rent, which sits at $896, a household would need an annual income of $35,838, the blueprint says.
Winters introduced the housing summit audience to several principles that she thinks will help the real estate industry get organized and learn to handle the “new wave.”
The first step, she said, is to preserve what you already have.
“Older housing is a significant share of the country’s housing stock,” Winters said. “61% of multifamily housing units were built prior to 1980. That doesn’t mean, though, that you have to keep an old, out-of-place building that doesn’t belong in the neighborhood anymore and might not have been a good choice to build in the first place.”
The industry also needs to support inclusive communities upfront by mixing homeowner incomes, ages, interests and housing types in each neighborhood, she said. She also encouraged industry leaders to simplify the development process and to develop sustainable and walkable communities.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley agreed especially with the principle of creating inclusive communities.
“We don’t want to segregate communities by income. We all suffer from that,” Riley said. “When we only see people just like us, then we miss the fullness of life’s opportunity to be enriched. Whether it’s older people seeing young or very wealthy people seeing not so (wealthy people), we’re all the same because we’re all citizens.”
Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.