Livability and Quality of Life

As the City grows, ensure a high quality of life city-wide by enhancing and connecting communities and building well-designed neighborhoods, encouraging infill and redevelopment and providing accessible new gathering places within communities throughout the City.

Critical components of neighborhood sustainability are housing conditions and infrastructure. Newer and revitalized neighborhoods benefit from the security and stability that accompany increased property ownership resulting from more recent investments in the community. However, with 43.8% of the City’s housing stock being over forty years old substandard – even dilapidated – housing is not uncommon in locations where the older housing stock is concentrated. Higher proportions of rental properties in these older areas have also been cited as a cause for properties not being maintained or attracting reinvestment. Efforts have been made to address these issues, including funding allocated through the City’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which has enabled over $2.5 million of investment in rehabilitating 68 homes for eligible residents over the past 10 years.

While many of the newer communities have homeowner’s associations ensure that properties and infrastructure are kept in acceptable condition, older neighborhoods, particularly those with higher proportions of rental and vacant properties, rely on property owners and the City to ensure physical elements are maintained. Preserving and enhancing existing neighborhoods throughout the City can be accomplished through collaborative planning efforts and programs created by neighborhoods and the City, such an establishment of Residential Improvement Districts. Such efforts would not only promote the stability of existing neighborhoods by monitoring conditions, but also could work to provide new gathering places, as well as improved infrastructure, green space and community facilities.

Livability extends beyond the physical construct of neighborhoods. Security and community pride have a synergistic relationship. Providing adequate lighting and addressing unsafe structures can help address blight and reduce crime in older neighborhoods. In addition to infrastructure such as lighting and sidewalks to ensure safe access to goods and facilities, the livability of neighborhoods can also be enhanced through public safety programs and services that are readily available to residents.

North Charleston’s Police Department actively seeks to improve communications between neighborhoods and the City on an ongoing basis. Through increased visibility within neighborhoods, Neighborhood Resource Officers and monthly reports to the neighborhoods, the department has established greater community connections. Other organizations, such as Metanoia and Charleston Promise Neighborhood, work to establish community involvement and bolster education of the City’s youth. The investment of time and support for such initiatives will enhance the foundation of “community” inherent within neighborhoods.

One component of sustainable communities is having a variety of housing types, sizes, and price-points. The City of North Charleston’s housing inventory is diverse, with over 48% of all units being Single family detached and another 7% as Single-family attached residences (townhomes). Over the past 15 years, a majority of building permits issued have been for additional Single-family detached residences, followed by multi-family (apartment) units.

There is a greater number of renter-occupied units than owner-occupied homes and, while the number of vacant units has decreased since 2010, 11.6% of all existing units were vacant as of 2017. It is not clear why vacant units are proportionately high even though the total inventory is increasing. Likewise almost 10% of residential lots in the City are vacant – prime for redevelopment. Enacting policies that support reinvestment in these neighborhoods can increase the confidence of owners to redevelop available land and/or renovate vacant housing units to re-establish occupancy. These investments will not only benefit existing neighborhood residents, but also provide additional housing options for current and future residents.

With a median home value of $155,900, North Charleston home values as reported by the US Census are lower than neighboring jurisdictions and the region in general. However, in the past decade the median home value in the City of North Charleston has increased at a much higher rate than other areas of the region. Average rents have also increased significantly, although not to the extent that rents have increased in other areas of the region.

According to a regional study of housing affordability completed in 2015, the City of North Charleston’s older neighborhoods, particularly those south of I-526, have the most affordable housing values and rents in the region. Given that these neighborhoods are located both where public transportation is available and closest to some of the region’s employment hubs, the relative affordability of these neighborhoods is attracting new residents who are able to pay higher purchase or rent prices. Higher housing values can increase assessment values for others in the neighborhoods, generating higher taxes and/or rents, which can make it more difficult for existing residents to afford to stay.

Households spending greater than 30% of the household income are considered to be “cost burdened”. Over 17,000 or 44% of the City’s households spent more than 30% of the household income on housing costs in 2017. As depicted in Appendix 1, these cost burdened households are located throughout the city. Recent market studies confirm a regional need for rental units, with a preference for rental and for purchase units to be within mixed-income communities. In addition, citizens have noted needs for additional senior housing options in the City, which include opportunities to “age in place”.

Policies and programs that encourage reinvestment in neighborhoods, can increase homeownership opportunities and generate various types of housing that are affordable to a range of household incomes city wide.

The City’s neighborhoods each have a unique character and identity. Each neighborhood within the City should be able to maintain its character and identity in the future as new residents move in and the population grows. New neighborhoods may often have design requirements to ensure future development is consistent with the established community character. Those communities that have evolved without such protections might opt to work with the City to identify what their character is and how to maintain or enhance their identities in the future through the development of specific neighborhood plans.

Likewise, not all commercial corridors or area within the City are alike. Therefore, there is potential for identifying the character of each corridor and developing guidelines for new development and property re-investments to ensure compatibility with that character as areas redevelop.