The Charleston Regional Development Alliance recently released its 2012 Regional Economic Scorecard highlighting Charleston as the most unaffordable housing market compared to six similar metro areas (Greenville, SC; Jacksonville, FL; Knoxville, TN; Lexington, KY; Richmond, VA; and Savannah, GA) and two leading economies (Austin, TX and Raleigh, NC). Here at the SC Community Loan Fund, we see this not as a challenge but the NEXT great OPPORTUNITY to transform the Charleston region into a world-class metro and ensure our long-term economic success.

At first glance the four critical issues for the region’s economic success (TRANSPORTATION, EDUCATION, INNOVATION, and TALENT) appear to be disparate issues, but if you delve deeper there is a common link: housing.

Housing + Transportation

The link between housing and transportation is clear to anyone commuting to and from work everyday in the Charleston region, yet as a region we only talk about transportation alternatives but not housing alternatives. With the expected population growth for the region, we may not be able to decrease our investment in transportation infrastructure for the foreseeable future but we can plan, zone, and finance housing development in the urban core where infrastructure already exists and alternative modes of transportation are most feasible.

Housing + Education

The link between housing and education is clear to anyone who has spent time in our local schools and witnessed the impact of transient students. Visit any under-performing school in the Charleston region and take a look around the neighborhoods that feed that school. If the neighborhood is hungry for investment, then nine times out of ten the school is starving, yet we focus on solving the problem from the inside out rather than the outside in. We can plan, zone, and finance housing development in underserved neighborhoods to create vibrant, sustainable communities outside of schools than nurture strong communities and successful students inside of schools.

Housing + Innovation

The link between housing and innovation is clear to anyone who has lived through the worst real estate crisis that the U.S. has ever seen. Despite the challenges related to foreclosures and the financing of unstainably high priced housing, the demand for a safe, decent affordable place to live that is close to where one works remains high and thus the ongoing need for innovative, sustainable housing solutions provides growth opportunities for the region’s housing sector, particulary those in architecture, engineering, and environmental sciences. We can plan, zone, and finance walkable neighborhoods containing a balance of housing and jobs that reduce traffic, increase the supply of affordable housing, and rein in suburban sprawl.

Housing + Talent

The link between housing and talent is clear to every employer who is actively trying to recruit in the Charleston region and crystal clear to every recent local college graduate who desires to remain here to work and live. Housing is affordable when a household pays no more than 30% of their income on housing costs. A worker must earn approximately $89,160 to afford the average price home in the Charleston region and $66,253 to afford the median price home. So, we must work long term to increase the average salary per worker while we plan, zone, and finance housing development in the short term that is affordable for workers earning $46,782, the regions’s average.

The SC Community Loan Fund believes there should be a regional financial investment in housing development similar to what has occurred in Charlotte through its housing bond referendum and Atlanta’s recent commitment to funding a new housing trust there, but we also realize with limited resources the best solutions may be no cost solutions. You see, local government has a powerful tool to spur economic and community development that does not cost a dime, it is called permission. The private market can deliver innovative housing solutions to the Charleston region if we plan, zone, give permission, and promote the development of multi-use, high density urban infill housing.

We invite you to join the Lowcountry Housing Trust in a community wide conversation on why housing matters and why we need to implement a regional housing plan. Email us today at info@sccommunityloanfund.org to learn how you can get involved.