Surrounding counties not immune to Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Channel 9 has brought you continuing coverage of the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte, but surrounding counties are not immune, and are also facing the problem of rapid growth -- leaving many people behind.

South Carolina reporter Greg Suskin has watched Rock Hill burst with new housing communities this year and asked how many of them are truly affordable.

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New housing communities are popping up all over Rock Hill. Some are described as affordable, but for whom?

“Anyone making minimum wage or even double minimum wage still can’t afford that affordable price,” said City Councilwoman Nikita Jackson.

She sees families struggle to afford housing and has even been in their shoes herself.

“I too was at that point where I was paying more than 30% of my annual income in rent,” she said.

The national Low Income Housing Coalition says the average affordable rent is $545 a month in Charlotte, $519 in Fort Mill and $377 in Rock Hill. But units at those prices are tough to find.

“There are waiting lists you gotta get on, and I’m on one right now as a matter of fact,” said Steve Isenberg.

He is staying at a shelter while he applies for jobs and looks for housing, but worries that rent will be too high -- even when he lands a job.

“I would just love to have my own place,” he told Channel 9.

The Exchange in downtown Rock Hill will offer luxury living, with apartments averaging $1,400 a month. Some are designated “affordable” but not for low income earners.

Another new high-rise near Winthrop University will start at $900 a month, targeting families earning $40,000 to $65,000 a year.

Jennifer Wilford with Rock Hill Economic and Urban Development told Channel 9 that it’s not only those near the poverty level that have few options.

“Your teachers and your policemen and your firefighters -- so, they’re right at or above that area median income, but that’s still not enough to afford what the housing stock is looking like,” she said.

The city offers developers incentives to encourage more affordable housing and help for first-time home buyers, but as home prices climb much faster than wages, it’s a challenge.

Dale Dove, a long-time advocate for affordable housing, showed Channel 9 plans for the eight small homes he wants to build on a lot in Rock Hill.

“This person would own their house,” he said, pointing at the plans.

Currently though, zoning doesn’t allow for his project. Dove said if “affordable” means you don’t spend more than 30% of your income on rent then for many people, that’s not reality.

“Over 5,000 households around this city limits are paying more than 50% of their income just to keep a roof over their head,” he told Channel 9.

Another issue that highlights how big this problem has become is building costs. The cost of building materials has sky-rocketed over the past several years and those costs are almost always passed on to the homeowner.

There’s also the “not in my backyard” mentality, as people don’t want to live near affordable housing communities.

“Workforce” apartments for moderate income families are a positive step but advocates say more needs to be done to encourage homeownership.