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Answer To Displacement Lies Within Black Communities
6/25/2014 5:11:34 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Finding low income affordable housing truly is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Last week I wrote a story about some 100 residents of the low income Ashley Shores Apartment complex who will have to move because the complex will be redeveloped. According to one report, one of the tenants was paying $300 per month for a three bedroom apartment. He’s going to need a lot more than luck finding that kind of deal again.

The metropolitan Charleston area is a beautiful community and many of us are blessed enough to live in nice homes located in nice communities. Most of us take that for granted. But for many, decent housing is a luxury. And it’s a luxury that is becoming less and less available to the poorest among us. For the working poor and the poorest of the poor, low cost housing just isn’t available in the metropolitan areas of the region.

You’d think that in America, one of the richest nations in the world, the availability of quality housing would be a no-brainer. But hole-in-the-walls still exist and some people are glad to live in them. Two Christmases ago I wrote a story about 20 or so female military veterans who lived in some woods with their children. They chose the woods for various reasons. Rampant unemployment, fear of rape for themselves and their daughters and other issues led them to believe they were better off together in the woods. The guy who turned me on to the story just lost his sister who had lived in the same Charleston Housing Authority complex apartment the past 63 years.

The security of having a home is something most of us don’t give a second thought. We make enough money to pay our bills and insuring that we have a roof over our heads becomes a foregone conclusion. But there are many among us, some very close to us, for whom that security is fleeting.

I read a recent report that stated spending 25 percent of one’s take home income is considered reasonable, but many of the poor spend 50 percent or more for housing. That means there’s less money for other things like groceries, transportation or health insurance. For such families, dinner at the Red Lobster is a rare experience in fine dining.

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

There are some Black folks who may enjoy that level of affluence, but each of those affluent negroes has a brother, sister, cousin, niece or grand kid who is struggling to make ends meet. Those less fortunate relatives depend on rapidly decreasing public assistance resources to put roofs over their heads.

Where are all the poor people going to live? Blacks in downtown Charleston experienced the displacement resulting from gentrification and moved in droves to North Charleston and West Ashley. Simultaneously new development spread to the Charleston sea islands and East of the Cooper River.

In traditional Black communities, the population has declined by more than half in many areas like James Island, Johns Island and Mount Pleasant. Many of those displaced residents moved to North Charleston and Hanahan. And now, gentrification is displacing residents who sought low housing in those communities.

For last week’s Ashley Shores story, Charleston County Housing Authority Executive Director Karen Gorham said the displacement of low income residents is a situation with which the three local housing authorities - the Housing Authority of Charleston, the North Charleston Housing and Charleston County Housing Authority - must contend.

Each have nearly 100 percent occupancy rates and all three have extensive waiting lists. Gorham said the county’s total housing stock of 399 units all are occupied. The same is true for North Charleston’s 323 units and Charleston’s 1,400 units.

Where am I going with this? Over the past 30 years gentrification and redevelopment have pushed poor Blacks and others further and further from the urban centers where they lived and thrived. Government assistance is becoming a thing of the past. More and more Black communities must depend on themselves for resources.

A few decades ago a few Charleston churches got together and constructed an apartment complex on James Island. I think it’s time the Black community revisited that concept. That is if they can take their minds off monuments to their own greatness.

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