Track 4: Diversity, Population Change, and Gentrification in the Preservation Dialogue
In Charleston, South Carolina, the first city in the nation to adopt a preservation ordinance, beautifully restored homes and manicured gardens populate the historic streets. Drawn by its historic charm, both visitors and new residents flock to the city. In fact, a recent study found an average of 28 new people move to Charleston every day. In 2017, Charleston was named the number one gentrifying city in the United States; over the last fifteen years, the average price of a single-family home has risen 77%. Once blighted neighborhoods have become the focus of preservationists and speculators alike. In response to the affordability crisis, the City of Charleston has outlined “workforce housing” zones and offered developers incentives for offering lower priced units. But these efforts have failed. Is preservation contributing to the gentrification of Charleston, and is there a solution?
The focus of this study is the Eastside neighborhood, which is one of the most heavily impacted areas on the Charleston Peninsula. Located in the northeast section of the Peninsula, it was laid out in the mid-eighteenth century, and was comprised of 140 one-half acre lots. The neighborhood developed into a vibrant mix of nationalities, races, and incomes. But in the 1960s, urban renewal divided the neighborhood, and the area entered a decline resulting in high crime and derelict properties.
However, the Eastside has stabilized in recent years. While safety is becoming less of a concern, long-time residents have been forced out by increasing rents. Developers have stalked the neighborhood, rehabilitated properties and rented them out to young professionals and students who can afford the massively escalated monthly rates. The once racially and culturally diverse neighborhood is thriving again, but its new residents share the same cultural and financial backgrounds.
This study included examining cities and organizations dedicated to closing the gap between affordable and unaffordable housing. For example, the City of Toronto has levied heavy taxes on transient residents buying up property as investment vehicles. In New Orleans, the Crescent City Community Land Trust has stabilized neighborhoods by land banking. Can the efforts of these cities and organizations be applied in Charleston?
In conclusion, this study found that while Charleston’s preservation ethic and corresponding popularity has caused an increase in housing costs, it is the local zoning code driving the gentrification of formerly affordable neighborhoods. While it provides additional opportunities for housing through density, the ability to further develop large lots in the city core is only increasing the cost of housing. It is hoped that Charleston will become more proactive in finding a solution in the future.