The truth about living and working in Charleston
There’s a lot of talk out there about too much construction, population explosions and too much traffic in Charleston. As this talk goes on, it’s clear to me that a lot of this talk misses a major root cause of these challenges, not to mention the direct effects these challenges have on each other.
Do you want to know the truth? The truth is that these challenges are symptoms of a larger problem and we haven’t done a good job in diagnosing that problem. And the people hurting the most? Our nurses, police officers and hospitality workers who cannot afford to live and work in Charleston. The root cause of all these symptoms is the lack of affordable and attainable housing in the City of Charleston.
Right now, housing costs are outpacing wages, so people can’t afford to live near where they work. In the Charleston area, 35 percent of households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. Is it any wonder then why we have affordable housing issues?
For example, there’s a 28-year-old patient care technician working at a hospital in downtown Charleston. She was born and raised on the peninsula, and she’s working two jobs and living with her father in Moncks Corner to make ends meet. Because of her hours and proximity, she’s fighting traffic both ways.
In any other city, she is earning a good wage. However, Charleston’s rental prices are outpacing wage increases at a staggering rate. The average rent is up 49 percent region-wide since 2010. Again, who loses in all of this? The very people who work and serve in the community. We’re not giving our most vital workers an opportunity to live in downtown Charleston.
That’s a problem.
Traffic is a problem and we all want it fixed. We can agree on that. Perhaps where we differ are the specific solutions because we keep trying to deal with our symptoms instead of the root cause of our problem. Not talking about the attainable and affordable housing needs of our community considering our traffic issues is like trying to diagnose a patient’s condition without taking a full medical history; your treatment may be useless if the right root cause of the illness is not correctly identified.
And just like in health care, there is not always a simple solution. But the point is that there are solutions, especially when we unveil, discuss, collaborate and agree on the root causes causing the problem. The bottom line is that our area needs more housing supply and attainable housing, so our most vital workers can live closer to their jobs, we can get more people off the road and we all can enjoy this beautiful area. Let’s work together as a region to make this our new reality.
Anton J. Gunn, MSW, CDM is chief diversity officer and executive director of community health innovation at MUSC Health.