There’s a lot of talk about too much construction, population growth and increasing traffic in Charleston. It’s clear that this misses one of the root causes of these challenges, not to mention the effect these challenges have on each other.
These challenges are symptoms of a larger problem that we haven’t done a good job of diagnosing. And the people hurting the most? Our nurses, police officers and hospitality workers who cannot afford to live and work in Charleston.
It’s the lack of affordable and attainable housing. Housing costs are outpacing wage growth, so people can’t afford to live near where they work. About 35 percent of Lowcountry households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
A 28-year-old patient care technician, born and raised on the peninsula and working at a downtown hospital, is working two jobs and living with her father in Moncks Corner to make ends meet. Because of her hours, she fights traffic both ways.
In any other city, she would be earning a good wage. But since 2010, rent in the Charleston area has risen 49 percent. So who loses in all of this? The very people who work and serve in the community. We’re not giving our most vital workers a chance to live downtown. That’s a problem.
Traffic is a problem we all want fixed. We can agree on that. But we keep trying to deal with our symptoms instead of the causes.
Talking about traffic without talking about affordable housing is like trying to diagnose a patient without taking a full medical history; the treatment may be useless if the cause of the illness is not correctly identified.
The bottom line is that we need to increase the housing supply, 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, CDMMUSC Health Chief, Diversity Officer and Executive Director of Community Health