Discussions loom about workforce housing challenges

in Community/Philanthropy Corner by

Photo above: Community members gather to discuss workforce housing challenges last Thursday at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

By Gloria Duryea

Beaufort County continues to receive recognition as one of the “best places to live.” One lesser known fact is that Beaufort is also one of the “most expensive places to live.”

Last Thursday, October 1st, Coastal Community Foundation hosted a panel discussion around the lack of workforce housing in our area and what that means to our teachers, healthcare professionals, police officers, fire fighters, and our community as a whole. Fred S. Washington, Jr. served as moderator for the discussion and panelists included Rick Toomey and David Homyk, Beaufort Memorial Hospital; Dr. Jeff Moss, Beaufort County School District; and Fred Leyda, Beaufort County Human Services Alliance.

Beaufort County School District and Beaufort Memorial Hospital, which experience annual turnover at rates of 12 and 20 percent, respectively, agree that the lack of safe, clean, affordable housing is a challenge when it comes to recruiting and retaining good employees. Mr. Homyk shared that half of the hospital’s newest hires relocated here from somewhere else. “Probably the number one challenge in recruiting talent to come here is the cost of housing,” expressed Dr. Moss.

Mr. Leyda shared the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s estimated Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom apartment in Beaufort County jumped nearly $200 from 2013 to 2014. This year, the hourly wage needed to afford a two bedroom apartment in South Carolina is $14.57.

To combat this cost, many folks take on a roommate or work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Or, they live outside the community in which they work. This lack of available housing means worker fatigue, increase in gas costs, and our local economy takes a hit because if people aren’t living here, they aren’t spending here.

There is some good news. Individuals and committees across Beaufort County are actively working on this challenge. Ideas include a “teacherage” (housing just for early career teachers), a “soft second mortgage” to help bridge the gap in affordability, and a “compassionate lending project” to provide traditional banking services to the unbanked/underbanked population.

I was inspired by the creativity, collaboration, and innovation shared between leaders in our community who were in the room last week. Beaufort County really is one of the “best places to live.”