Charleston wants to use $900k from CARES Act to acquire property for affordable housing

Updated: Oct. 28, 2020 at 11:27 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of Charleston has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This Community Development Block Grant is worth about $1.1 million and is funded through the CARES Act.

While this money was allocated to provide coronavirus relief, the city wants to use around $900,000 for acquiring property for transitional or rental affordable housing.

Director of Housing and Community Development Geona Shaw Johnson says they are taking a big picture approach to addressing issues like homelessness that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We want to be able to provide a long term and sustained strategy with the funding we received, and we are hoping this is that pot of funding that will enable us to do that,” Johnson said.

The idea is still in the planning stage, but Johnson says that money would go towards buying a vacant property and creating units similar to what is found at One80 Place. Johnson says they have a location in mind but does not want to make it public out of fear that the price may go up.

“The thought is to not build halfway houses, but to literally build individual apartments in a multi-family style building,” Johnson said. “The pandemic has taught us a number of things and one of the things that we want to be cognizant of is that people need their own individual spaces.”

Johnson says they are taking a two-pronged approach to the money. New housing units can help with the long term needs, but there are plenty of people needing immediate assistance.

To that end, about $245,000 of the grant is slated to be used to help people pay rent, mortgages and/or bills.

“We don’t give funding directly to individuals. We award funding to organizations that then provide the funding to individuals and families,” Johnson said.

This is the second round of this kind of grant. The city doled out around $500,000 to non-profits in April to help with rental assistance. That money directly helped 136 households.

One of the non-profit organizations working on the individual level is SC Thrive. The rental assistance program through the organization is a testament to just how much need there is in the community right now. Those who qualified could have received up to $1,500 to help pay for rent.

“We had a huge flood of interest right at the open of the program,” said Liz Walsh, Senior Regional Manager at SC Thrive. “We saw an increase at the beginning of the month for each month the program was open as people either started to fall behind or realized they were not going to be able to catch up.”

SC Thrive’s program was funded through a different but similar mechanism through SC Housing. The program ended this month, but Walsh says the coronavirus is still threatening to force people out of their homes.

“Definitely there is still a need,” Walsh said. “At the conclusion of our program, we were still receiving emails and phone calls from people who expected to fall behind come November. Now that November is just about here, we know that a lot of people might fall behind even now.”

Walsh says SC Housing has not released how many households the rental assistance program helped but guaranteed that it had a huge impact.

The city is taking public comment of the proposal. Written comments can be sent to Geona Shaw Johnson, Director, Department of Housing and Community Development, 75 Calhoun Street, Suite 3200 City of Charleston, South Carolina 29401. Comments will be accepted until November 18.

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