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Charleston Business

Charleston Metro Chamber, Truist Bank Work for Affordable Housing

Aug 25, 2022 10:01AM ● By Donna Walker

By David Caraviello

When Mark Lattanzio first moved to the Charleston area nearly four decades ago, he couldn’t afford to live near the downtown office where he worked. So he ended up 20 miles away in the town of Goose Creek, and worked second jobs into his 30s until he could afford to buy a home closer to his office.

“That was 37 years ago, and here we are today,” said Lattanzio, president of the coastal South Carolina market for Charlotte-based Truist Bank. “And believe it or not, if that gap could have gotten wider, I think it has.”

Concern over housing attainability in the Charleston area led the Truist Foundation to present a $200,000 grant Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, to the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, which has hired an executive fellow and formed a coalition of business and civic leaders to combat the issue in a region where housing is the single greatest expenditure for nearly all households. Nearly 90,000 households in the region are cost-burdened by housing, which means they spend 30 percent or more of their household income on housing.

Those are problematic numbers for the Charleston Metro Chamber, which works to foster the region’s business climate. The concern is that housing unattainability in the Charleston region could ultimately slow or even reverse the area’s robust growth, by making it more difficult to attract the kind of talent that businesses rely on.

“Just in conversations that I’ve already had, we’ve learned from HR professionals that it’s hard to attract good talent to the region,” said Craig Logan, housing executive fellow for the Charleston Metro Chamber. “Oftentimes they may have a notable client or a person who’s a perfect fit for the job, but once they do the research and learn about housing costs and transportation and things of that nature, they reconsider their offers and go somewhere else where housing is a bit more affordable. We’re already starting to see that trend here.”

Median home price nearing $400k

Despite 10 consecutive months of declining year-over-year home sales in the Charleston area, the median home price remains nearly $400,000, according to July figures from the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors. The housing issue is particularly acute in areas like Mount Pleasant, where the median home price even in the town’s more affordable northern half is approaching $800,000, and which Lattanzio said 21,000 people commute to and 27,000 more commute from each day.

“That tells you that 21,000 people can’t afford to live there, and 27,000 can but have to work someplace else,” he added. “We’ve got to get housing married up to where people are working. And I do believe it trickles down. This has got to be addressed, because it affects educational initiatives, kids learning to read, and getting people off the roads.”

A past chairman of the Charleston Metro Chamber who’s also been active within the Charleston Regional Development Alliance and Trident Technical College, Lattanzio suggested the grant to the Truist Foundation given his familiarity with housing attainability and affordability issues in greater Charleston. The $200,000 will help jump-start the chamber’s Regional Housing Coalition, which launched with 13 members but is open to businesses, nonprofits, and local government officials seeking to address the housing issue.

“What Truist has done is really given us the ammunition to get it kicked off, to provide opportunities for us to educate the community,” said Logan. “We know Charleston is home to over 800,000 people. And so this gift is a great opportunity to start the PR campaign and the coalition process. But we know that more gifts will be needed. And for anybody who is open to being a part of the coalition, who’s looking to find out what they can do and how they can be involved, this is a great opportunity to do that.”

Clearly, messaging is a key element of the coalition’s early efforts, given the blatant NIMBYism that can accompany housing issues. “What we’re defining success by is public opinion,” Logan said. “We want to educate people on the housing crisis, and what it is. Attainable housing addresses homelessness all the way up to affluent housing. So it doesn’t come with negative connotations, but it is something we need to be a prosperous region.”

‘The numbers are not great’

Key to that effort is Logan, who started at the chamber in March after seven years with the Metanoia community development group and stints with the Community First Land Trust, the North Charleston Housing Authority, and the Charleston County Housing Steering Committee. “That’s what piqued my interest in housing,” added Logan, also vice president of the neighborhood association in his Chicora-Cherokee community in North Charleston. “And that’s ultimately what led me here.”

The challenge he faces in his new position is complex. The population of the Charleston region is growing three times faster than the national average, yet the area still faces a dearth of available housing stemming from the nationwide slowdown in home building that followed the Great Recession. Among those households making between $35,000 and $49,000 annually, 41 percent of homeowners are considered cost-burdened by housing, which means they spend 30 percent or more on housing costs.

As income levels go down, those cost-burdened percentages go up: to 51 percent among those making between $20,000 and $34,999, and to 79 percent among those making less than $20,000. And for renters, the figures are more dire — 67 percent of renters making between $35,000 and $49,000 are cost-burdened by housing, a percentage that rises to 86 for those making between $20,000 and $34,999, and a staggering 93 for those making $20,000 or less.

“The numbers are not great,” Logan said. And just as the problem was years in the making, finding solutions promises to take time. The formation of the Regional Housing Coalition and the $200,000 grant from Truist represent but first steps.

“This generous gift will fund the work of the coalition,” said Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber, “and will provide us with the means to make impactful strides to ensure our employees, neighbors, teachers, young professionals, police officers and firefighters all have attainable housing closer to where they work.”