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  • Madeline Kelly

College of Charleston students navigate shortage of affordable housing

Updated: Apr 30

By Madeline Kelly

Photo by Madeline Kelly

CHARLESTON, S.C. – It’s that time of year when College of Charleston students have the daunting task of navigating cobblestone streets in search of their oasis – an affordable place to call home.

Within the timeless elegance of the Holy City's architecture, there is a clear juxtaposition of two realities – privilege and struggle. 

It seems that CofC students are no exception to this disparity.

The average cost of rent for an apartment in Charleston is $1,990, which is higher than the national average of $1,372, and a big monthly expense for many full-time students.

Even in areas within driving distance like James Island and West Ashley, the average cost of rent is $1,964. This leaves many CofC students unable to find something close to The College and affordable.

The rising cost of rentals is forcing CofC students to choose between paying these high rates or transferring to a less expensive area for college.

This is a matter-of-fact reality for CofC Admissions.

“Anytime a student cannot afford their tuition or housing costs, there is a risk for that student not staying at The College,” says Megan Rowe, director of housing at CofC.

Johanna Clark, a CofC senior majoring in hospitality and tourism, has been living on-campus for the past three years in a historic home that was turned into student housing.

“I have been in the same house every year, and the price has gone up each year by about $500, which is a lot,” says Clark, adding that it’s difficult to keep up with the rising prices as a full-time student. 

When Clark first came to CofC, her on-campus housing was $1,500 less per year than it is now. Although on-campus housing in Charleston is less expensive than most off-campus housing, the price is still increasing.

“I mean campus housing is cheaper than the other alternatives, but not really, and I think it's getting to the point where eventually it's not going to save you any money,” notes Clark. 

A noticeable increase in the cost of rent is becoming a common occurrence for CofC students during their four-year college careers. 

There is only enough on-campus housing for 28% of students at CofC, and the other 72% of students live in off-campus housing that is unaffiliated with The College.

With both on-campus and off-campus housing at CofC so costly, Clark describes the situation as “kind of like choosing between the lesser of evils.” 

So what is causing such high housing costs? It’s all supply and demand.

A shortage of affordable housing is a somewhat new phenomenon in the Holy City, and it seems there are two major factors contributing to this change – population growth and lack of space to build.

With a downtown area that is no more than five square miles and a population growth rate that is three times the national average, there are too many people moving

to Charleston and not enough housing or space available.

“In 2023, South Carolina became the state where the most people who were moving moved to,” says Tina Hartford, a Charleston real estate agent.

South Carolina was ranked the fastest growing state in 2023, according to census data, and the population grew by 1.7%, increasing the total population to nearly 5.4 million by July.

Hartford explains that there is a lack of available land to accommodate all the people moving to Charleston and that the recent population growth contributes to the increase in the cost of  existing homes. 

“It’s a supply and demand thing, and landlords can charge so much because people will pay it,” Hartford added.

Rowe agreed, adding that there is just no more space for housing to expand. 

“Since the demand is high, private companies know they can raise their rates as people will still rent with them as the supply is not high enough to meet the growing demand,” she added.

It’s difficult for CofC students to keep up with these rising costs, and many students have already been notified that their rent will go up again this fall. 

“I graduate next May so I don't have to worry about this, but they raised the cost of my housing for next fall as well,” says Clark, who received an email notification in February of the increase. 

Having to pay more for rent in Charleston is the reality students must face if they want to continue their education at CofC. In fact, Hartford said rent is still going up 3.5% to 5% a year. 

The shortage of affordable housing is a problem for some students deciding to attend The College, but Rowe doesn’t have any solutions. 

“Unfortunately, this is not an easy issue to resolve,” said Rowe, “and I cannot think of any recommendations that I have control over that would help.” 

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