Phillis and Herb Newman were looking forward to renting an apartment to a woman who was hoping to live in the same complex as her sister in North Myrtle Beach.
After calling the woman’s references and running a background check, they were ready to rent to her. They wanted to help, especially since she was disabled and needed to be near her sister since she can’t drive herself.
The woman, who confirmed the details of her story but declined to speak to The Sun News on the record, told the Newmans she would be using a housing choice voucher, which she obtained through the Myrtle Beach Housing Authority.
That’s where they ran into a problem.
For decades, the city of North Myrtle Beach has resisted allowing the use of housing choice vouchers within city limits, a decision that could disproportionately leave low-income households, people of color and people with disabilities unable to live in the city.
The Myrtle Beach Housing Authority has asked North Myrtle Beach officials several times since the 1980s to allow their vouchers to be used within city limits, according to and emails between the two entities obtained by The Sun News.
“MBHA approached the City of North Myrtle Beach in 1988 and again in 2001 requesting permission to assist low-income citizens in your area,” Myrtle Beach Housing Authority Executive Director Sharon Forrest wrote in a 2008 email to former North Myrtle Beach City Manager John Smithson. “Each request was denied.”
After more than 30 years of resistance, is a housing authority coming?
Nearly 13 years after that email, housing choice vouchers still aren’t permitted in North Myrtle Beach.
“The thing is, we wanted to help this woman and we’re not able to,” Herb Newman said.
The Newmans are the latest landlords to go through the process of trying to rent to a tenant with a housing choice voucher for people who make less than 30% of Horry County’s median income. South Carolina’s state housing authority can only offer vouchers in seven counties, not including Horry County.
More than 2,400 households in the city spent more than 30% of their income on housing, meaning they are “cost-burdened,” according to the latest available data from the Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
North Myrtle Beach city council plans to discuss the option of creating its own housing authority at its budget meeting next month, according to Mayor Marilyn Hatley. She said the city will have to look at all its options before making a decision, but the city doesn’t accept vouchers from the Myrtle Beach Housing Authority or another agency.
“At this time we do not have a housing authority,” Hatley said. “And we are not going to allow another housing authority from another city or another county or area to come in and dictate.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has contacted the city about this issue, according to spokesperson Gloria Shanahan.
“With the significant need for affordable housing in the area, HUD has explained to the city on several occasions the benefits of the Housing Choice Voucher program,” Shanahan wrote in an email to The Sun News. “The decision resides with the City of North Myrtle Beach.”
Housing issues disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities
South Carolina’s statute regarding housing authorities says they can be established for individual cities or counties along with the state housing authority. But the statute is “messy” and can lead to confusion about when a city council’s decision is necessary to accept housing vouchers from another authority, according to Adam Protheroe, a litigation attorney with S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which focuses on advocating for low-income residents in areas like housing.
People of color and people with disabilities often rely on government assistance programs at a higher rate, meaning the practice of prohibiting vouchers could disproportionately affect those groups, Protheroe said. Fair housing law recognizes that even unintentional discrimination can cause harm, he said.
“A practice like this, where essentially you’re excluding people who will use federally assisted housing from the city, that could potentially have that kind of discriminatory effect,” Protheroe said.
Hatley said the disproportionate impacts of the lack of a housing authority on marginalized communities is one reason why city council plans to discuss the possibility of forming a housing authority at the city’s budget meeting in May.
Patricia Robinson has lived in North Myrtle Beach since 1978. But when her partner who she lived with died last year, she had to absorb half of the rent. She gets disability payments and some support from friends and her sister in Washington, D.C., but she still struggles to pay her $1,000 in rent every month along with other expenses.
“I do have a little to fall back on,” Robinson said. “But if I had to use that money all the time, I wouldn’t have it long.”
She doesn’t want to think about leaving the community, even if it would mean cheaper housing.
“I love the sound of that ocean,” Robinson said. “To have to leave it… I know I’m old and sick. It’s got to be a reason for me to have to leave.”
Low-income workers live among retirees and tourists
In North Myrtle Beach, a city that attracts retirees and vacationers to its beaches and tight-knit community, the affordable housing crunch may not be as visible. But the need is still there.
Misconceptions about the makeup of a city can lead to similar misconceptions about the need for affordable housing, according to Bryan Grady, chief research officer at the S.C. State Housing Finance and Development Authority. In North Myrtle Beach, for example, more than 1,000 renter households are considered low-income, Grady said.
“In a lot of cases, there’s this sense of ‘Oh, well we don’t need affordable housing. Poor people don’t live here.’ But that’s not necessarily the case,” Grady said.
Hatley said she had been contacted by a landlord in recent months about renting to a tenant using a housing choice voucher, but this was the first time she had heard from a resident in a few years.
Though the Myrtle Beach Housing Authority has contacted North Myrtle Beach city council about housing choice vouchers before, it hasn’t been a consistent push, according to Forrest. Instead, it’s discussed every couple years, she said.
“Not constantly, but occasionally, it will come up and someone will ask, and we’ll explain to them why we can’t do that,” Forrest said. “If we could allow our participants to rent in North Myrtle Beach it would open up so many more places, I think, for them to live.”
Because the issue has been brought to council on few occasions, Hatley said it hasn’t been prioritized.
“We don’t have the supply and we don’t have the demand right now,” Hatley said.
North Myrtle Beach workers live outside the city
But the city is losing some of the population that works there. Hatley estimated around 50% of the people who work in North Myrtle Beach live outside the city.
Some workers, like Angela Smith, have left the city because of high housing costs and few resources in North Myrtle Beach. Organizations like Hope’s Kitchen and the Eastern Carolina Housing Organization do outreach in the area, but they don’t have the ability to provide housing vouchers.
Smith moved to Tabor City, North Carolina, about seven years ago after an unsuccessful search for housing closer to her job at Hoskins Restaurant in North Myrtle Beach.
“I basically tell people, all I do here is just sleep,” Smith said. “I sleep here, but the rest of my life is in South Carolina.”
The drive to work is about 30 miles, but Smith said she leaves more than an hour in advance to account for possible traffic, especially in the summer.
Smith has settled into her routine in Tabor City, but she still wonders about how her life would look different if she was able to find housing in North Myrtle Beach. She thinks about how her son wished they could have stayed in South Carolina and the time wasted on her commutes.
“There’s a lot of time lost,” Smith said. “I could be doing a lot of cleaning, I could sleep a little longer.”
With no subsidized housing, is zoning the problem?
No subsidized housing exists in the ZIP code 29582, which covers North Myrtle Beach, according to the National Housing Preservation Database from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation.There also aren’t any properties on the database with a North Myrtle Beach address.
A city’s zoning laws can often offer a glimpse at the reasoning for its housing situation, Grady said, and that holds true in North Myrtle Beach. Large swaths of the city are zoned as single-family residential with low density while there are limited options for a multi-family development.
“Certainly if you write a code in a way that essentially makes it impossible to develop large multifamily housing of any sort, let alone affordable housing, that would explain why that hasn’t been developed there,” Grady said, speaking generally.
Advocates for affordable housing say zoning meant for single-family homes can leave out low-income households, intentionally or not, by limiting the amount and type of units allowed in certain parts of the city. Housing meant for multiple families, like apartment buildings, require different city zoning laws.
“Zoning is, and has been, a tool that prevents housing from being built,” said Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “It’s important for communities to be looking at things like how do we expand, make it easier to build affordable housing or easier to build rental housing?”