Lowcountry mayors tackle affordable housing in a new, innovative way
With a history of homelessness and its own affordable housing issues, the Charleston region has taken to an innovative solution that involves pairing two unlikely groups: landlords and homeless individuals.
The Mayors’ Commission on Homelessness and Affordable Housing, led by the mayors of Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Summerville, and North Charleston, advocates for those affected by homelessness or those with low to moderate incomes. The Commission works with local, state, and federal agencies to advocate for policies and services that reduce the homeless rate in Charleston.
According to The South Carolina Interagency on Homelessness, there were 361 homeless individuals reported in Charleston County in 2018. In 2016, there were 461 individuals and in 2017, there were 388. This steady decrease in the homeless population could be credited to the Mayors’ Commission and the efforts of other service agencies.
On May 22, the Commission hosted a public meeting on homelessness and affordable housing, where several agencies presented their organizations’ role in fixing these issues.
Heather Carver, the director of Lowcountry Continuum of Care (COC), explained how they find landlords that are willing to help their clients transition out of homelessness. Homeless individuals receive a case manager and fill out an application so that Lowcountry COC can find them a good home.
“It’s not first come, first served,” said Carver of her clients. “It’s based upon the vulnerability and the need of those in our community.”
While the homeless individual or family finds a place to live, the landlord also enjoys certain benefits:
1. Lower vacancy rates. By providing tenants for the landlords, service agencies can help property managers cut down on advertisement costs.
2. Long term and reliable tenants. After providing the tenants, these agencies can work to ensure that their clients will stay in their units for the long run. Additionally, the agencies cover the tenant’s rent while they work with the client on a financial plan.
3. Tenants are held accountable to be good neighbors. Each client is matched with a case manager who will check in with the client and landlord on a regular basis, ensuring a fast response time to any issues that may arise.
“We just need forgiving landlords,” said Marie Elena Roland of the Navigation Center, another service agency in the fight to end homelessness.
While Lowcountry COC and the Navigation Center are on the front lines of these issues, the Mayors’ Commission on Homelessness and Affordable Housing is working on the bureaucratic level to implement the Housing First Model in Charleston.
This model, created by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, is different from other homelessness prevention models because it operates on the assumption that people first need security in their housing before focusing on employment, mental health, or legal concerns.
The model also employs two approaches to rehousing: permanent supportive housing (PSH) and rapid rehousing. The first is geared toward homeless individuals affected by “chronic illness, disabilities, mental health issues, or substance use disorders who have experienced long-term or repeated homelessness.” On the other hand, the goal of rapid rehousing is to provide temporary homes for individuals who need time to build self-efficiency skills. Service agencies around the Lowcountry apply both of these approaches in their work.
The Housing First Model is not only an efficient program that moves homeless Charlestonians off the streets, but the National Alliance to End Homelessness also found that it is cost effective. By providing individuals with homes, they are less likely to use the city’s emergency services, end up in jail, or crowd homeless shelters.
For more information on the Mayors’ Commission, email Christian Alberg of the City of Charleston Department of Housing and Community Development at ALBERGC@charleston-sc.gov.