Government and Community Services
The Richland County Department of Government and Community Services (GCS) serves as an education and awareness hub and facilitates resolution of constituent concerns by bridging the gap between County departments and citizen needs. CGS takes a citizen-centered approach to improving government services. (Learn More)
Featured Organization of the Month
GCS works to proactively engage and connect with constituent groups across Richland county. Have a great story about something that a business, school, church, or non-profit is doing in the community? Share it with GCS and have the opportunity for them to be recognized as our "Featured Organization of the Month".
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Government and Community Services shares information about important issues and topics in Richland County.
Affordable Housing Q&A
What is affordable housing? What does it look like to the average person in Richland County?
Affordable Housing is housing that is less than 30% of a person’s post tax income. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. A paper by the University of South Carolina Psychology Department entitled “Family Homelessness in Richland County”, highlights an examination of housing and homelessness needs for the last 25 years. In 2014, the population of Richland County was 401,566. As reported by the U.S. Census bureau, 17.2% of Richland County residents live below the federal poverty line (i.e., 69,069). The 2015 federal poverty threshold was $11,770 for an individual and $24,250 for family of four. When one considers that so many Richland County residents live near poverty, perhaps, it is not surprising that the equivalent of 7.8% of the Richland County population applied for housing assistance from Columbia Housing Authority (CHA) in 2014. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2018, 16.9% of individuals in Richland County live below the poverty line.
How many people in Richland County are affected by affordable housing? How significant is this problem in Columbia, Richland County, and the state?
Back in 2016 when the Columbia Housing Authority (CAH) opened up its entire inventory of 2,200 public units of housing. There were over 9,000 people on the waiting list for housing. According to CAH officials at the time, about 400 names from the waiting list will move to housing each year. The Housing Authority is planning to reopen portions of its housing inventory in the fall of 2019 but now have over 10,000 people on the waiting list. According to recent article in the Post and Courier, nearly 1/3 of households in South Carolina are having trouble affording housing. Richland County is the 2nd highest county in South Carolina for severely cost burden renter households. These are households that pay more than 50% of income on rent and utilities. Charleston, Greenville, Horry, and Richland Counties account for over 40% of the severe burden renter households in the state. Affordable Housing is not only a local or state issue. It is a nationwide problem.
What factors contribute to the lack of affordable housing?
Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, says a shortage of housing inventory, a deepening construction labor shortage and high land costs are fueling the affordable housing crisis. The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index shows that the peak of housing affordability was reached in 2012 when 78% of new and existing home sales were affordable for a typical family based on their incomes and current interest rates. By the third quarter of 2018, that score of 78 had plummeted to 56, meaning only 56% of home sales were affordable. NAHB’s projections show that in 2019 the index is likely to fall below a level of 50. “We have multiple years where home price growth was rising faster than income growth,” Dietz said. “That was occurring because there was a lack of resale inventory as well as a lack of new construction inventory, which in turn was caused by a labor shortage, lack of housing lots and other kinds of higher construction costs. Low-cost rental housing also is becoming increasingly hard to find. While renters’ median housing costs rose by 11% between 2001 and 2016, their incomes fell by 2%, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Research.
Why should the public care about the lack of affordable housing? What’s in How does it affect them?
The lack of affordable housing has numerous negative effects on individuals, families, communities and entire countries. This includes substandard housing, displaced families, racial segregation, unemployment, rising crime rates, increased poverty, adverse health effects, mental health issues, developmental delays, and poor academic performance. Affordable housing is a key to better schools, better neighborhoods, decreased crime, healthier lives, and more. Even if you do not live in or around impoverished neighborhoods, the impacts of them are felt beyond their borders. In November of 2018, community leaders got together to discuss ways to stop youth in the 29203 zip code from entering into crime. From January 2018-November 2018 there were 9 homicides, at least 50 aggravated assaults, at least 25 robberies of an individual, and at least 10 sexual assaults. These problems can quickly slip into other communities and directly or indirectly impact others. Accessibility to quality affordable housing, on the other hand, has been shown to improve health and well-being, quality of education, employment opportunities, security and financial outcomes. When housing is affordable, people can spend more energy and resources on healthcare, nutrition, education, day care, transportation and other important products and services.
What are some of the solutions to addressing the problem of affordable housing?
In a recent article from Salud America, Pramod Sukumaran identified six ways that cities are working to solve the affordable housing crisis.
- Create Affordable Housing Trusts- Housing trust funds are established, ongoing, and public funding sources for low-income housing developments in both states and cities.
- Fund via Bond Elections- Local governments can propose allocating funds to specific projects or developments through municipal bond elections, which gives citizens a chance to approve or deny said spending plans at the polls.
- Offer Incentives, Tax Breaks- State incentives, which are supplemental to federal ones, issue credits to developers for the acquisition, rehabilitation, or construction of rental housing targeted to lower-income households. While cities do not have direct control over how all funds are allocated, incentive programs encourage private developers to increase the supply of affordable housing. This can result in economic developments in urban centers.
- Relax Zoning, Developing Rules- Zoning regulations and “not-in-my-backyard” mindsets often block or raise the cost to build multifamily, affordable housing. A newly implemented Austin City Council program waives specific zoning rules—including height and density restrictions, as well as minimum parking requirements. These rules will make it easier for low-income housing developers to navigate the city’s building processes and build more cost-effective dwellings.
- Engage Big Tech (and Big Businesses) - Big tech is starting housing projects and investing in philanthropy for affordable housing. Microsoft recently launched a $500 million affordable housing initiative. This would provide loans to developers and grants to reshape the housing market in its region. Microsoft is also partnering with the mayors of Seattle and surrounding cities. They agreed to consider zoning and other policy changes to promote affordable housing development.
- Revitalize Neighborhoods- Neighborhood revitalization covers a broad range of activities. It motivates change and effects the socioeconomic characteristics of communities. A Philadelphia faith-based nonprofit, Esperanza, turned the abandoned Roberto Clemente Middle School into 38 affordable housing units, which opened in November 2018. The school-turned-affordable-housing project is just one part of Esperanza’s neighborhood revitalization plans. The organization is focused on four areas: education, arts and culture, community economic development, and social change for the Latino population.
Who in Richland County is helping to address this problem, and how?
Richland County has an office that is directly working to address the problem of affordable housing. The Office of Community Development was created in 2002 to administer the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and the HOME Investment Grant funds. These funds come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and primarily benefit the low- and moderate-income population of the unincorporated areas of Richland County. (Low- and moderate-income is defined as a family household income 80% or below of the median area income). In seven years, Richland County Community Development has grown to administer seven federal grants totaling more than $5 million. With these funds, the office provides affordable housing programs such as housing rehabilitation, emergency housing repair, down payment/closing costs assistance, public improvements and a neighborhood revitalization program. There are also organizations like Midlands Housing Trust, Homeless No More, Columbia Housing Authority, as well as many others that are working locally to address the problem.
What can the average individual do to help address the problem?
Get involved in the political process. Support Affordable Housing Development in your community and surrounding areas. Help inform people who are in the “Not in my backyard” opinion and share information like these questions to help educate the general public. Support efforts for less restrictions on land development. Learn about organizations in the local community that support affordable housing efforts. Contact congress representative and tell them they must increase investments in affordable housing solutions like the national Housing Trust Fund, Housing Choice Vouchers, and public housing and expand and improve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit so that it provides more housing affordable to extremely low income renters.