Affordable Housing/Workforce Housing, Whatever – The Poor Still Will Be Homeless

A homeless woman seeks comfort on the streets

By Barney Blakeney

The face and perception of affordable housing is changing. In the past the terms conjured images of poor blacks in low income housing complexes. But in today’s housing market where the median price of a house on the Charleston peninsula in 2016 ranged from $335,000-$665,000, the image has morphed into one of young white upwardly mobile couples and individuals. The term itself has morphed so that affordable housing and workforce housing have become synonymous.

But for many black residents the picture of affordable housing is familiar. In the metropolitan Charleston region blacks earn about 60 percent of what their white counterparts earn. So in communities like Mount Pleasant where 2016 housing prices ranged from$425,000-$1.3 million, the thought of home ownership is nonexistent and even apartment rentals are a distant dream.

Former Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall responded to questions about housing affordability with particular regard to black residents after the town’s housing task force which she chairs submitted a report to town council last week. Despite the huge scale of housing development occurring in and around the town affordable housing is almost nonexistent for blacks, she said Monday. Even for white couples whose average annual income is around $75,000 meeting housing costs is a struggle, she said.

That scenario is played out all over Charleston County as development claims traditional black communities, Stokes-Marshall said. Developers looking for economic opportunities are turning their sights to those communities. And too many blacks who don’t realize the value of the property their ancestors bequeathed them are more than willing to exchange the land for dollars. Heirs’ property owners are most vulnerable because one individual can begin a process that topples the economic viability of the entire community, she said.

Landless in a region where housing costs have skyrocketed leaves many blacks who previously were cash poor, but land rich homeless. Former U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Executive and Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie said the issue of affordable housing for poor blacks and whites has reached critical mass in the region.

Low cost housing affordable to the poor and working poor just doesn’t exist in the region’s urban centers, he said. Those individuals will have to move further away from urban work centers to find housing they can afford. And for working poor people already economically challenged, transportation and family support systems that make it easier for them to find employment will become less available, he said.

Hollywood Rep. Robert Brown agrees the poor won’t find housing in rural communities such as his in the future. Citing a Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Counties Council of Governments housing assessment report, Brown noted that housing costs in the region range from $200,000-$350,000 for average and median cost homes respectively. Wage-earners must earn $19-$45 per hour to afford those homes, he said.

Gregorie said the federal government has to step up its assistance to local governments to enable them to create housing that’s affordable to poor people – typically those whose incomes fall below 60 percent of the federal annual median income. And he added that the links between affordable housing, mass transportation that carries people from their homes to work centers and livable wages must be established.

Charleston government is trying to create some avenues to address the issue under leadership from Mayor John Tecklenburg. The city is revamping its agreement with developers that may increase the percentage of affordable housing built and land trusts that offer other advantages are developing, Gregorie said.

Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson has introduced a bill in the legislature that would allow government agencies to use varying percentages of construction related fees to promote affordable housing development.

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