Small business owners know we have an affordable housing crisis in the Charleston area. They know because of deep involvement with the city’s working class. Employing three or four people and working side by side with them, every day, in retail or professional services, means you get to know each other very, very well. And in a city where a worker must earn at least $42.65 per hour to afford the average-priced home, you see can see the impact of the affordable housing crisis on your employees’ faces.
According to a recent study commissioned by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, more than 53,000 homeowners and almost 40,000 rental households in the area spend too much of their income on housing. “Too much” is defined as more than 30 percent of monthly take-home pay to cover mortgage principal, interest, taxes and insurance or rent and utilities,. The obvious result of this problem is too little left over for medical bills, groceries, car repairs or other necessities.
Of course, this isn’t just a small business problem. It impacts recruitment in every sector, creates havoc in a local hospitality industry that relies on low-wage labor and worsens the transportation infrastructure crunch through ever-longer commutes between jobs and affordable homes. It impacts all of us on some level and offers real danger to the economic growth of the region. So what do we do about it? Who can solve this problem?
The answer, in part, brings us back to the business community. As the employer, capital source and focal point of the nexus between wage and price, private sector business holds a vital role in addressing our affordable housing crisis.
Here are three practical ideas any business leader should consider:
I. Initiate or invest in affordable housing projects. While this is obviously impossible for many businesses, those that are involved in real estate development or partner with companies in that sector should take a second look at affordable housing projects like the Seven Farms Apartments on Daniel Island. Financed in part by South Carolina Community Loan Fund, the property is designed for families earning up to 60 percent of area median income. It’s a smart, sustainable project that is a win for its financial backers, developers and residents.
II. Demand action from your professional associations and elected leaders. Too few business leaders leverage their powerful position as job creators to demand action. Moreover, real participation from the business community will be required to effect meaningful solutions. The same zeal with which business leaders demand better roads to transport their employees to and from work, must also be coalesced to demand diverse and affordable housing options for those same workers. That collaboration begins with an email, a phone call or a personal visit. It begins when the business community takes the first step.
III. Actively support the groups already at work on the problem. At South Carolina Community Loan Fund, we finance the acquisition, predevelopment, infrastructure, construction, rehabilitation and permanent financing development costs for affordable housing projects. At the same time, we advocate here and in Columbia for planning and zoning policies that will address barriers to development and reduce the overwhelming needs for services like ours. Supporting organizations like ours, through investment or donation, makes a meaningful difference.
Can the business community solve the affordable housing crisis all on it’s own? Of course not. We need smart policy-making, broader community involvement and major improvements to the public infrastructure we share. But business leaders play a vital role as early adopters and messengers. They see the issue first-hand and know how vital it is to the continued success of their businesses. Their advocacy, informed by that irrefutable perspective, can move the political discourse in the right direction and effect real change.