© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A free housing clinic series aims to help families in a troubled Richland County school district

FILE - Families in Richland One School District live in a community beset by poverty, eviction, and homelessness. A grassroots effort to help parents deal runs through May. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
Steven Senne/AP
FILE - Families in Richland One School District live in a community beset by poverty, eviction, and homelessness. A grassroots effort to help parents deal runs through May. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Families living in the Richland One School District live in one of the most eviction-prone school districts in the United States.

There are eight municipalities within Richland One. They are, for the record, Columbia, St. Andrews, Hopkins, Dentsville, Cayce, Eastover, Gadsden, and Forest Acres.

The first four listed above are among the 100 most eviction-prone cities of their size in the United States, according to data by Eviction Lab. St. Andrews had the highest rate of evictions of all U.S. mid-sized cities (20.66 of every 100 renters) through 2016, when the numbers were last updated.

2023 data from the South Carolina Department of Education show that 70 to 79 percent of pupils in Richland One lived in poverty. And data from the South Carolina Interagency Council on Homelessness, also from 2023, show that Richland County recorded 743 people on its point in time count of homeless persons. That’s second only to Horry County’s 807.

Data like these have compelled Richland One to partner with the Columbia Branch of NAACP for a series of clinics aimed at getting distressed district families in front of services providers in the county.

“We work with families who you would probably consider the working poor,” says Deborah Boone, coordinator of Richland One’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Education PASS project, which aims to keep unhoused students in school. “It's not that they don't have a job or work. They don't make a living wage.”

Data from the South Carolina Housing Finance and Development Authority back this up. According to SC Housing, Richland Couty had the highest number of severely cost-burdened households in South Carolina as of 2021, with more than half of renters cost-burdened.

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator finds that a single parent of one child, working full-time for minimum wage, makes $24 dollars per hour below what a living wage would be in Richland County.

The U.S Census identified median household income in Richland County (as of 2022) as $59,850, with median per capita income being $35,720. It also listed median gross rent at $1,142 per month, in a county with a poverty rate of 16.2 percent overall. The MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates a needed income of $73,412 for a single adult with one child (slightly less if there are two working adults in the home).

Richland One’s clinic series, which began in January and runs once a month, into May, aims to connect district families with free services that can help struggling parents and guardians answer tenants’ rights questions, provide rent or utility bill assistance, explain how to get a residential problem like mold addressed, and understand the eviction process.

For Glynnis Hagins, a Skadden Fellow with NAACP, the clinics are about getting help to people who have either little information or a lot of inaccurate information.

“A lot of folks think things cost money, like it costs money to get things fixed, [that] it costs to go get a lawyer,” Hagins says. “In another vein, people don't know their rights, especially when it comes to tenants rights in South Carolina.”

Landlords in South Carolina have a lot of power – they’re not required to repair everything, for example. It’s also unusually easy for them to begin eviction proceedings. Hagins says tenants who run up against these issues can easily feel hopeless, which is what the clinics want to undo.

“When they come to the clinics, they realize help is available,” she says.

Hagins is an attorney, and says that legal help is a big part of the clinics. That’s why SC Legal Services has a table at them. Attorneys answer questions and give perspective, but, critical to know, not legal representation.

“This is not an attorney client relationship,” says Lisa Beharry, an attorney with SC Legal Services. “I'm not representing you, but I will help educate you.”

That’s not always comfortable.

“They get emotional,” she says. “They get teary because it's a lot to deal with.”

Beharry says a lot of the emotion, however, needs to be met with unvarnished reality.

“Somebody could be behind two or three months rent,” she says. “They've applied for benefits. They're not getting anybody to give them. They've applied for rental assistance. They're not getting that. They're applying for jobs. They're not getting that. And I have to tell them, you're responsible for this rent.”

Beharry says that despite the not-always-happy endings to these conversations, attendees of the clinics do usually walk away feeling more empowered to address their own issues. And that many of the attendees find a way through those issues before they end up as part of a dataset.

Upcoming Richland One Clinics (Each runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., unless noted):

· Feb. 26 – South Kilbourne Elementary School, 1400 South Kilbourne Road, Columbia.

· March 9, 9 a.m. to noon – Eau Claire High School, 4800 Monticello Road, Columbia. An information session on evictions runs from 9 to 9:30 a.m.

· April 23 – C.A. Johnson High School, 2219 Barhamville Road, Columbia.

· May 6 – Hopkins Middle School, 1601 Clarkson Road, Hopkins.

All sessions are free. You must have a child in the district to attend. For more information, click HERE.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.