South Carolina short thousands of affordable rental homes; tenants pay the price

News13 Investigates

FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — As people move to South Carolina in droves, housing advocates say the Palmetto State is short tens of thousands of affordable rental homes.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, South Carolina is short nearly 90,000 rental homes that are affordable and available to extremely low income renters.

Attorneys with South Carolina Legal Services say that shortage can cause people to overpay in rent, leaving little left for other necessities. Another possible outcome is that tenants may be forced to simply find something they are able to afford, which may sacrifice quality, even safety.

“The floor caved in and knocked them off the bed,” Florence city council member Pat Gibson-Hye Moore said. “And underneath the tile they found mold. And then they’re having a hard time getting it fixed.”

Gibson-Hye Moore hears horror stories from Florence renters frequently.

“Home is supposed to be a safe haven,” she said. “And you pay rent– or you’re paying a mortgage, whatever, it should be yours to enjoy.”

Florence city council passed an ordinance in the fall that will create a rental home registry within the city. Gisbon-Hye Moore is hopeful it will combat bad landlords.

“That registry allows us to be able to find the owner,” city manager Randy Osterman explained. “Find the responsible party for those rental properties, if a tenant has an issue that falls under the scope of the livability issues in the ordinance.”

Property owners will sign an affidavit saying their building meets the city’s standards. They can also request an inspection through the city. It takes effect July 1.

“It changes the game significantly,” Florence police Commander Anson Shells said. He heads up the department’s code enforcement division. “It actually gives us a tool we never had before… If they don’t come into compliance upon our request, then the permit and the business license can be in jeopardy.”

Florence’s registry is modeled after ones in other cities. Columbia, for instance, has had one since 2016.

Meanwhile, at the statehouse, state Representative Marvin Pendarvis of North Charleston pushes for new legislation that would entitle a tenant facing evictions to a lawyer if they can’t afford one, in certain circumstances.

“90% of tenants do not have representation for when they’re going into court,” he said. “And most landlords do. And the reality is many of these tenants are disproportionately low income, disproportionately minority.”

Pendarvis said the inspiration for the bill came from the Eviction Lab, a team at Princeton University. The team compiled lists tracking eviction rates in U.S. cities.

Among mid-size cities, Florence ranks third in the country for highest eviction rate. On the same list, Myrtle Beach is ranked 23, and Lumberton is ranked 37.

Among small cities and rural areas, Quinby, Lake City, Darlington and Marion are all among the top 100 nationwide.

Speaking of Marion– when News13 was leaving the rental featured earlier in the story, the property owner showed up. McKeiver Williamson at first said he wasn’t aware of the issues the tenants told News13 about. Later, he suggested the tenants move out while the units are fixed up.

“And then they can come back if they want to,” he said. “But when they come back the rents probably going to be a little more.”

That can leave low income tenants with few options.

“Right here,” Shiqwanna McCullough pointed out during a tour of her Marion rental. “They wont come fix the floor.”

The floor is just one of the issues her and her uncle, Rogers McCollars, say they deal with in their apartment. They pointed out cracks in the floor, uncompleted repairs, holes in a window and mold on the outside of the unit.

They claim snakes once invaded their apartment and that their porch has given out during their two years at the rental.

“The sewer is backed up, the inside of the apartments- they’re in bad condition, and we pay our rent,” McCollars said. “They want our rent money but they don’t want to come out here and fix the problems when you call them.”

They are now looking for a new place to live.

“They’re kind of hard to come by unless you go further up move north,” he said. “It’s real frustrating.”

Next door, we heard concerns about black mold on the floor beneath the toilet.

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