How far would you be willing to commute?
With rent on the rise and luxury apartment homes one-upping each other with doggie spas, co-working spaces and 24-hour concierge services, it’s obvious the cost of living in Charlotte is escalating — an average of $300 more per month since 2013. For some, it’s worth the constant increase to be near the social scene and endless amount of activities, but for others, financial freedom is priority.
Former Charlottean Frederick Williams, 27 and his girlfriend Kayla Brooks, 25 believe enough is enough. They sought refuge from Charlotte’s skyrocketing rent, gas prices and grocery bills — and found it in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Home of the Winthrop University Eagles, the United States Disc Golf Championship and the popular Wing King Cafe, aka WingBonz — Rock Hill is the 30-minute drive down I-77 that’s saving former Charlotte city dwellers hundreds in rent.
“When my roommates weren’t able to re-sign their leases for our South Charlotte apartment, I knew Rock Hill was the most logical decision,” said Williams, a logistics coordinator for a Lawn & Garden distributor in Pineville.
Williams currently pays $740 for his one-bedroom loft in Rock Hill — before, he was paying $800 with three roommates in South Charlotte.
As for Brooks, an account executive for a marketing agency in Mooresville, the option of moving to Charlotte after graduation was tempting — but not worth the financial burden.
She began her career working as an administrative assistant in Uptown. For two years, Brooks drove from Rock Hill to the South Charlotte light rail station, where she would hop on the train into the city to avoid the monthly cost of Uptown parking garages.
“The two-part commute was worth it,” she said. “I paid $785 in rent and did not want to give that up, even when I started working for the marketing agency in Mooresville.”
Low-cost Rock Hill kept Brooks locked into her apartment, driving almost an hour to work. But eventually, when her lease ended, she packed up and moved to the edge of University City, closer to her job, shortening her commute from an hour to roughly 30 minutes.
She pays more than she did before — $910 a month — but her apartment is new construction. “In Charlotte, it would be impossible to rent a brand new apartment for less than $1,000.”
Brooks and Williams are not the only ones opting for cheaper rent and a slightly longer commute. According to the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, 25 percent of Mecklenburg County workers commute from surrounding counties — with the average one-way commute for Mecklenburg County workers being 24 minutes.
“Rock Hill was an easy decision for me, because my commute to work in Pineville is 25 minutes,” Williams said. “I also graduated from Winthrop University and have a lot of friends and classmates who still live in Rock Hill, so it is nice to see them more often than before.”
Now that Williams has settled in Rock Hill and Brooks has moved just north of Charlotte, their commutes continue throughout the weekend. The couple travels 45 minutes each way to see each other.
“Living outside the city of Charlotte forces us to explore the cities around us,” Brooks said. “We try new restaurants, visit locally owned stores and Fred plays rounds of golf at courses in Tega Cay and Spring Lake.”
While they choose to make the most out of their current commuting status, Charlotte living has benefits neither can deny.
“What I miss most are cheap Ubers after a night out,” Williams said. “I used to be an affordable Uber ride away from Uptown — now, that’s not an option.”
“I miss after-work social events like Discovery Place’s Science on the Rocks and of course, access to better shopping and entertainment like baseball games,” Brooks said.
For now, the couple plans to continue commuting. Eventually, using their rent savings, they plan to purchase their first home.
“I love the idea of living in NoDa,” says Brooks. “It’s artsy and intimate, yet close to the city — with cheaper Ubers.”