Housing study highlights need for affordable housing in Georgetown County
GEORGETOWN COUNTY – The need for affordable housing in Georgetown County is an issue that has come to a head over the last several months. A recent study commissioned by Georgetown County Economic Development and funded by the Alliance for Economic Development for Georgetown County provides insight on the severity of the problem and is hoped to spark serious discussions about how various players in the county can come together to address it.
The key takeaway from the study? If the county wants to convince younger residents to stay and join the workforce, and make it easier for new and existing businesses to find and hire employees, it urgently needs more housing options that low and middle income earners can afford.
“Most people will tell you there’s an affordable housing issue in Georgetown County, but there wasn’t really any data on it available,” said Brian Tucker, director of Georgetown County Economic Development. “We wanted to find the true state of the housing situation in Georgetown County relative to a healthy real estate market.”
The study, completed by Bowen National Research, shows the county actually has multiple housing issues. There’s an affordability problem, but in most of the county there’s also very little inventory at any price range. While inventory exists on the Waccamaw Neck, most of it is priced well out of range of the average earner.
While researching for the study, the authors looked at available homes in the County and found just under 400 available. Initially, that doesn’t sound so bad, but just over 300 of those homes were on the Waccamaw Neck with a median sales price of $389,000.
“What’s happening is we have a huge demand for lower and middle income housing. Every single subsidized apartment available to lower income residents in Georgetown proper is full with long waiting lists for occupancy. Then the middle income earners – our nurses, teachers, police officers, firefighters – struggle to find a place to live anywhere except on the Waccamaw Neck, and on the Waccamaw Neck there’s no inventory in their price range,” Tucker said.
There are more than 12,000 people who commute to Georgetown County to work every day, the study found. That’s more than half of all people employed in Georgetown County. Of rental units available in Georgetown County, the monthly cost for most is between $1,000 and $1,500. Even the lower end of that range is nearly double what is considered affordable for those serving in essential positions including, cashiers, servers, cleaners, retail workers and cooks. Law enforcement and licensed nurses come closer to being able to afford rentals on the lower end of the threshold, but still don’t quite reach the level of affordability.
“In many markets within the United States, it is not uncommon that various public sector and service industry workers to not earn enough to afford most of the housing alternatives offered in a particular market,” the study states. “In such circumstances, these lower wage workers either commute from other markets with more affordable housing alternatives or reside within the market in housing that ultimately creates a cost burdened housing situation.”
That is exactly what is happening in Georgetown County. The study found most renter households in Georgetown County do not have incomes that can afford the rents they pay.
“Normally, well balanced for-sale/owner-occupied markets have a vacancy/availability rate of around 2-3%” the study states. “… the 394 available units [in Georgetown County] represent a vacancy/availability rate of 1.8%. This is … an indication of a likely shortage of for-sale housing. This also represents a development opportunity for new for-sale product.”
But in development, and the costs associated with it, lies another problem. The high cost of development in this area means an apartment would have to rent for a minimum of $1,100 per month and a house would have to sale for $300,000 to generate an average return on investment, according to the study. In order to make the cost of development more affordable for developers and enable them to create affordable housing opportunities for residents while still making a profit, government would need to offer some type of incentive or assistance. That’s one of the discussions Tucker said he hopes this study will lead officials to have.
“What we have in this study is an assessment of the problem, not a solution,” Tucker said. “The next step is for us to figure out how we address the issue. We know that we are a destination for retirees. We also know we have been losing the younger demographic for a number of years. We need to determine a path forward that allows us to attract the younger generation and maintain the quality of place that our retirees are drawn to.”
Patrick Bowen, the author of the housing study, will present its findings to local officials across the county in an invitation-only meeting on April 8. Attendance is limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. He said he hopes that presentation will start a much-needed and overdue conversation.
View a copy of the study and/or the presentation via Dropbox