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  • Ari Yoder

College of Charleston students struggle with housing options

Updated: Apr 30

by Ari Yoder

Image of Downtown Charleston courtesy of Andrew Shelley

As Charleston’s vibrancy continues to evolve, so does its draw for newcomers seeking a blend of career opportunities, education, and great city living.

With a current population of 157,450, experiencing a staggering 4.45% increase since 2020, the Holy City is undeniably on the rise.

Yet, as the influx of residents intensifies, so does the hassle for housing options, heightening the city’s real estate frenzy.

Particularly noteworthy is downtown Charleston, now stated as one of America’s fastest-growing cities.

Frank Hefner is Director of the Office of Economic Analysis and a professor of economics at College of Charleston.

“Back in 2019, you might have found a decent two-bedroom apartment for around $1,500 to $1,800 per month, depending on factors like location, amenities, and the condition of the property,” says Hefner.

“Fast forward to today, and you're likely looking at rental prices closer to the range of $2,000 to $2,500 per month for a similar two-bedroom apartment in the same area.”

Ellery Shauer, a realtor in Downtown Charleston, explains how this has evolved.

“Over the past five years, the downtown Charleston rental market has seen quite a significant increase in rental prices,” Shauer states. “Factors such as the city's popularity as a tourist destination, its strong cultural scene, and its strong job market have all contributed to the rise in demand for rental properties.”

According to statistics found on Rent Cafe, the average rent for an apartment in Charleston in November 2023 was $1,990, with the national average at just over $1,600.

The trend in rising rent prices in Charleston is increasing at a higher rate than the national average.

This is causing an imbalance between supply and demand, says Shauer.

“If there were a substantial increase in the supply of rental units in downtown Charleston, it could help alleviate some of the pressure on rental prices,” she said.

But Hefner explains why the city is not able or willing to take significant steps toward counteracting the supply versus demand problem.

“We're not building as much as we used to,” Hefner says. “Part of that's because of the high interest rates, and part of it's because the cost of construction is so high, and part of it's because you have to have a place to build it. And we just don't have a lot of open space.”

A possible solution to the Charleston housing market may not be the most desirable overall.

“The one thing that would actually save students for housing would be another real estate collapse, like 2007-2008,” Hefner states.

The supply and demand problem isn’t the only housing issue students are facing. 

The cost of living is also quite high.

“A condo in one building, I was looking at - single bed, two bedroom, two bath, small condo was going for $550,000,” states Hefner. “The rent on something like that usually goes for about $2,300, which is Charleston prices in a lot of cases.”

Students are in turn having to work more to keep up with the high costs of living.

Amber Kodell, a junior at College of Charleston, works at a downtown restaurant during most of her free time.

“I honestly just feel like I’m working just to make ends meet right now, and I don’t think that’s how college should be,” Kodell says. “I don’t really get to like go out and have fun like some other people do while they’re in college, and that makes me kinda feel like I’m missing out on a lot of like really good experiences.

Students all across campus are having to set aside the typical college experience just to be able to afford basic necessities like rent.

Kodell comes from New Jersey and has spoken with her friends about their living situations.

“You’d think that like since Jersey is like a higher cost of living than Charleston that their housing situation would be better, but they all seem to be doing okay,” says Kodell.

Kodell further goes on to state that she believes the difference is that her friends’ colleges provide on-campus housing.

Not only is this situation affecting many students’ work-life balance, it’s also impacting their attentiveness to school.

“Oh well, I feel like I can’t really prioritize school like I need to,” says Kodell. “I also feel a lot more tired during classes so I feel like I don’t get to pay as much attention as I should.”

Kodell isn’t the only student struggling with long work hours while going to school and trying to fit in a social life.

“The rising rental prices can put strain on residents, particularly those with lower incomes or limited housing options,” Schauer states. “This can have social and economic consequences, which could impact the overall inclusivity of the community.”

Schauer does have one suggestion to help students - budget, budget, budget. 

“It's essential for students to carefully budget and explore options such as roommates or off-campus housing in surrounding areas to find accommodations that fit their budget,” she says.

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