2018 Good Business Summit: Workforce Woes
Oct 3, 2018
Innovative Options and Shared Community Values
Charleston gets media accolades and glossy magazine spreads right and left, but for local business owners and residents, the picture is not always so postcard perfect. The Holy City was recently named the #1 worst city in which to start a business, and the #1 top city for gentrification, said panel moderator Amy Barrett of the Urban Land Institute of SC, setting the stage for a frank discussion on the region’s housing and transportation challenges. Consider: the average service industry worker in Charleston earns about $36,000 a year, which means they can afford roughly a $1,000/month rent, but less than one percent of the region’s housing market falls in that range. If they have to move far away to find housing, then they are driving into work, adding to congestion and parking issues. Transportation and housing woes are woefully interrelated and intertwined, as Michelle Map of the South Carolina Community Loan Fund (SCCLF), Katie Zimmerman of Charleston Moves and LLF’s Jamee Haley made clear.
For starters, Barrett asked the panelists what shared values undergird regional planning for workforce housing and transportation. “We can’t talk about quality of life for just a few,” said Haley. “This isn’t about whether people can get to the beach in the summertime, but whether people have a roof over their head or can get to their job. As a community we need to invest in what we believe in.”
“I’m intrigued by the notion of intentionality,” said Mapp, whose SCCLF expands equitable access to capital for affordable housing development. “An attitude that things are just going to happen doesn’t cut it. Instead we need to be intentional about how we want things to happen and what I’m going to do, what we’re going to do, to get there. We as a community and region need to articulate what we all desire and then work toward solutions.”
“What I see is a community that has planning fatigue,” offered Zimmerman of the bike/pedestrian/alternative transportation advocacy group. “We have a lot of planners, municipalities and public officials who are struggling to be intentional, but we don’t have a clear sense of how we’re doing business as a community. There’s no shortage of plans on planners’ shelves—for housing and for transportation, but which one are we going to take off the shelf, and get it done?”
At this moment of economic prosperity in the region, with rampant development and business growth, opportunities are out there, the panelists agreed. Subsidizing housing is not a sustainable solution, Mapp argued, “but because we are growing we have an opportunity for capital investment like never before. It’s time to rethink what prosperity means in our community and bring along some people who may have been left behind. Housing is an infrastructure issue, and transportation issue. If we thought differently about where and what kind of housing we offer, we can solve some of these problems. It’s a multi-trillion dollar issue, and the private market, if allowed, could come up with innovative responses to our housing issue,” she added. “Right now the choices we’ve made from planning and zoning don’t give us many options.”
“In terms of transportation funding, there’s a massive misunderstanding of where our taxes go,” said Zimmerman. “If you don’t own or don’t drive a car, you are actually subsidizing our roads. And funding bike lanes, sidewalks and public transit is way, way cheaper thank funding infrastructure for single occupancy cars.”
“The greatest power local government has is the power to grant permission,” quipped Mapp.