Mt. Pleasant task force brainstorms affordable housing for locals

Mt. Pleasant task forces brainstorms affordable housing for locals

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A special committee is crunching local housing market data in attempts to make living East of the Cooper more affordable for those who work there.

"Everyone knows that we have an attainable housing problem here," Mt. Pleasant Councilman Elton Carrier said Monday."You can call it what you want: affordable housing, workforce housing. It's all the same. We've got to stop kicking the can down the road and do something about it. Now how much we can do, that's what this group hopefully can tell us."

Mount Pleasant's Housing Task Force is in its second month, working to find affordable options for groups ranging from senior citizens to firefighters, as the cost of living in the town continues to rise.

The price of a Mt. Pleasant home jumped nearly 7% from 2013 to 2014, according to town data presented in the task force meeting. The median price for a home is now approximately $400,000.

The task force has approximately eight months until the group will present its recommendations to town council for consideration. Brainstorming continues, even in the wake of a new moratorium passed last week on new multi-housing developments, including apartments.

"Multifamily housing is a building block of affordable housing," Rich Estes, member of the task force, said. "Density is something that is required to make something affordable. Fortunately, it's just a six month, 180-day moratorium…hopefully the impact is not going to have a huge impact."

More than 2,000 new apartments were already under construction or were approved before the moratorium. Some task force members say the break could be an opportunity to explore all sides of the puzzle, including the possibility of utilizing existing housing in a more affordable way.

"This committee was designed knowing we couldn't make changes overnight but we have to look at this from all angles," Benji Cooke, task force member and commercial land broker, said. "There are either single family or apartment complexes that are already on the ground here…we could research an opportunity to bring an affordable nature to some of those units."

It's one option that the regulatory subcommittee, which Cooke chairs, will explore. Other committees include finance, housing needs and stakeholders. All four groups are meeting independently of the task force's regularly scheduled meetings to quicken the process.

Other ideas the task force brainstormed Monday include investigating available land and possibly working alongside developers in packaging lower-cost options for those who need it.  But that requires bringing the developers to the conversation, something that task force chair Thomasena Stokes-Marshall said she wants to see.
"If we're going to be truthful about the need for affordable housing, not just here in the TriCounty area but around the country," Stokes-Marshall said, "Members of the development community, as well as the finance community, need to have a seat at the table. It's about collaboration."

Estes believes the task force should work to be proactive in outreach to developers as their work continues.

"I believe developers actually want to be part of this solution," Estes said. "It's upon us to actually go to them and show them properties and opportunities to make this type of project economically available for them to do. Instead of wondering why they're not here, go speak to them directly and make them part of the solution. It would go a long way for the town."

The task force meeting is open to the public and meets every third Monday of the month.

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