Earlier this week, a young woman and her daughter entered our doors looking for housing.  A single mother of one, she was at her wit’s end, making any connection she could and requesting assistance from any one she thought might be able to help her.

Her story is similar to that of so many people who work hard to make ends meet. After years of employment, she became disabled and lost her long-time job as a pharmacy technician, and has been out of work for nearly two years.  She cannot afford market rate rents on her disability income, and as a result, she had to seek federal assistance and Section 8 housing.  As is the case in many areas of the state and for that matter, the nation, the program had reached its capacity and was no longer providing housing vouchers.

She came to CLF seeking assistance, hoping to find an affordable place to live. Although CLF is not a direct housing provider, staff leveraged its relationships with its partners and referred her to housing organizations in her area. To her disappointment and ours, we had no choice but to send her out the door with nothing but more phone numbers.  Like countless other people who call or walk into CLF’s office, we may never know how her story ends.

There are many factors to this woman’s story that are concerning, but the one that has the greatest impact is the lack of resources needed to meet the demand for affordable housing.  The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, which provides rent subsidies to low-income families, is limited.  According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, nearly 850,000 households nationally are on a waiting list to receive a voucher, of which 80% have extremely low incomes and the majority of the households include children.  TheCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that only one in four low-income households on the list receives assistance.

Approximately 31% of all South Carolina households – or 543,100 households – are renters.  In 2010, 18,391 families in South Carolina received Section 8 rental assistance yet 128,215 households in the state reported housing costs greater than 50% of their income.  The median income of these households is $940 and the median housing costs are $820, leaving only $120 to pay for other necessities. About 35% of these severely cost-burdened renter households are headed by people who are elderly or have disabilities, while 34% are other families with children.

There are currently over 1,600 families on the Section 8 waiting list.  But there is good news for South Carolina.  In August of this year, the state received a federal grant in the amount of $484,000 to be used for improvements for public housing programs, including increasing the number of vouchers.

CLF’s primary focus has traditionally been financing the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing, and it has continued its involvement advocating and working to create a spectrum of housing, including emergency shelters and transitional housing.  It has created partnerships with local non-profits that provide direct services to individuals and families in need, and its staff serves on local and regional committees including the board of directors of the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition and the Charleston County Affordable Housing Subcommittee.

It is our responsibility as funders, developers, and providers of affordable housing to bridge the gap between resources and need in order to ensure everyone has access to safe, affordable housing.