Low wages and high housing costs were a drag on South Carolina’s economy even before the pandemic caused massive job losses, and now it’s worse, according to a new state report.
In 2019, when unemployment was still very low and the coronavirus had not yet arrived, nearly a quarter of South Carolina renters were spending more than half their incomes on rent, according to the 2021 South Carolina Housing Needs Assessment.
The average wage in 40 of the state’s 46 counties was too low to afford a two-bedroom apartment, and more than 151,000 evictions were filed.
“Even before the pandemic occurred, people were living on the edge,” said Chris Winston, spokesman for the state Housing Finance and Development Authority, which also goes by SC Housing.
How much worse did it get in 2020, when unemployment soared? That’s a question mostly left to the imagination in the just-released report from SC Housing, due to a lack of fresh data, but there are some hints.
While the report lacks information on 2020 rents, it points out a sharp year-over-year decline in affordable homes for sale — making it harder for renters to become owners.
The number of sales pending in December for homes costing $100,000 or less plunged by 33 percent statewide compared with December 2019, the report said, citing SC Association of Realtors data.
Pending sales for homes under $200,000 dropped across every price band, while sales of more expensive homes increased.
Together, there were 8,109 fewer home sales pending at $200,000 or less across the state in December than there were the prior December.
“What this shows is that there is very little inventory, overall,” said Bryan Grady, chief research officer for SC Housing. “If there’s not an effort to have more housing, and a wider variety of housing, you’re going to continue to keep seeing this.”
Similar points were made in a March 24 online conference hosted by the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.
John Hunt, CEO of MarketNsight, said during that conference that a large problem is the lack of construction of middle-income housing such as duplexes, triplexes and smaller single-family homes.
“All the cool stuff we used to build in this country … we just skip over it,” he said.
SC Housing’s annual report is meant as a tool for state and local policy makers.
Grady said decisions that drive or limit the construction of housing are mostly made at the local level — towns, cities and counties that create zoning rules and issue permits.
“The solution, ultimately, has to be at the local level,” he said.
Both the problem, and the solution, are seen through different lenses at the local level. Some towns and cities have been working to create more affordable housing, while others have worked to limit housing construction.
Both approaches are responses to the rapid population growth and development seen in South Carolina’s metropolitan areas, which has increased the price of housing while also increasing complaints about traffic and quality of life.
“Every time people are sitting in traffic on the highway, it’s because people can’t afford to live close to where they work,” Grady said.
SC Housing manages a number of initiatives aimed at helping people buy homes, or stay in the homes they have bought; they help with down payments and loans, for example.
The authority also managed a $25 million fund called SC Stay, to help people get caught up on overdue rent and mortgage payments. When applications opened for that program late last year, all the money was gone in six days.
Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.