This week continues the latest installment in City Paper's ongoing series "After Riley" presented in conjunction with Lowcountry Local First, Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C. Community Loan Fund, Coastal Conservation League, and IfYouWereMayor.com. In it, candidates have been asked to answer a series of questions regarding culture, commerce, and livability. Candidates have responded with no knowledge of any other participant's answers.
The series will culminate on Sept. 30 with a forum put on by these organizations. The forum is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP at YourCharleston.org.
The rapidly growing Charleston real estate market leaves many behind. What would you do to create a more equitable approach to affordable commercial real estate and housing?
Diversity makes Charleston interesting, and that's one reason we love it. To keep it, we must have affordable housing. A variety of sustainable solutions are needed; here are some worthy of consideration:
Density: Supply and demand drives housing cost up or down. Strategies to increase density in the right places will increase the supply so prices will come down.
Inclusionary zoning: The city already has inclusionary zoning in parts of the city, requiring a percentage of housing units in new developments be "affordable." That's a step in the right direction. But we need to fix three things: the rate must be truly affordable, the requirement needs to extend beyond 10 years, and oversight is needed to make sure those truly in need receive the housing.
Zoning changes: As the city continues to grow, land-use patterns will change. The city needs to reexamine its permitted land use throughout the city. There are parts of the city that could be rezoned from Heavy Industrial and Light Industrial to General Business, expanding the commercial real estate options available.
The Seven Farms Apartments and Seven Farms Village on Daniel Island are prime examples of how the city can work with nonprofits, like the Humanities Foundation, developers, and the community to create high quality affordable housing. The city can leverage the land it owns to repeat the success of Seven Farms.
As mayor, I will draw on my 32 years of experience in developing housing communities to engage collaborative efforts to create opportunities for affordable housing. I anticipate that in my first term alone I will make 1,000 housing opportunities available. Creating housing is just one part of the challenge. It is important to have housing units built near employment centers, offer more diverse housing options, and remove regulatory barriers. In addition, I will develop and implement a plan to end chronic homelessness. My approach will include:
Require developers to have a minimum of 20 percent below-market-rate units in all multi-family projects of 10 units or more
Reduce taxes to make holding historic buildings as low-income rental housing financially viable
Provide property tax breaks for low-income homeowners
Link the Accommodation Tax to affordable housing for tourism industry employees to directly connect tourist revenue with some of the people who may need it the most
Obtain historic tax credits, low-income housing tax credits, easements, covenants, tax abatement, and grants.
I would also encourage the local higher education community to build more student housing to free up affordable units that students occupy into the market place. Through creative zoning policies I will offer height bonuses to developers who agree to provide affordable commercial spaces and/or increase green space that decreases flooding in the project area. I will expand on these efforts and push for affordability throughout the city, especially on the peninsula. The real way to accomplish my goals is through jobs that pay livable wages.
In response to the rapidly growing real estate market, I think it's imperative that new developers be made aware of this city's increased desire to maintain housing that meets a variety of needs. Two key groups are impacted but rarely do they intersect: the shrinking number of low- to moderate-income black people and the growing number of white middle class. It's time for a unified set of guidelines and principles for development. That takes into consideration who we're looking out for clearly and boldly at the beginning of the process, not at the end. Additionally, that standard percentage of workforce housing needs to be increased immediately. Fortunately, we're not starting from scratch on this issue and many fine non-profits are already on the case (and have been for some time), the S.C. Community Loan Fund, Family Services Inc., and others.
And about the huge number of returning veterans? A substantial grant was received to help them, but grants don't last forever.
Rising costs of living and decreasing housing affordability — these are ongoing challenges for our beloved city. It is particularly troubling to me that firefighters, police officers, teachers, hospitality workers, and others who serve our city so well often find they cannot afford to live here, and that small, locally-owned businesses are struggling to meet the high costs of rent in our city.
That's why I worked to form, execute, and fund a comprehensive growth management plan as a member of Charleston County Council.
My goal as mayor is to reexamine Charleston's current growth management to find areas where we can improve. I will do so via a lens of providing affordable housing, ensuring adequate public facilities, and preserving the character of our community. There are established incentive-based alternatives being used in other cities across the country that I will examine and emulate to encourage development of affordable housing. The flip side of that coin is providing developers some predictability and certainty in the city's permitting process. Delays in permitting new development result in costs that are ultimately passed on to the buyer or renter, and those can be alleviated.
As both a businessman and former director of economic development for the City of Charleston, I understand the importance of small business as a pathway to success for both our city and its residents. And there are a number of things we can do to make the commercial real estate that businesspeople need more affordable. For example, I strongly support our city's incubator program and will incentivize strategic redevelopment of affordable commercial properties west of the Ashley and elsewhere.
In terms of affordable housing, the numbers tell the story. Here in Charleston, our median income is 80 percent of the national average, while housing costs are 120 percent — and that represents a serious challenge for all of us going forward. As mayor, I'll work to address this issue by, first, reexamining our existing city programs and services, such as our workforce housing, as part of a performance audit that I will conduct during my first year in office. Second, I will support the development of an affordable housing plan based on the successful model currently operating in Austin, Texas, which among other things, will incentivize the creation of a mix of housing that includes more affordable units.
Charleston is a great city. With 43 people choosing to come live in our city each day, the real estate market is booming. With the increased demand we have seen increasing prices for both renters and homebuyers. This is the free market at work. However, it behooves us to make sure that long-time residents and working people have housing that is affordable. This is necessary for a healthy community. A more equitable approach to housing policy helps with traffic issues too, because we cannot have all workers commute from outside the city limits. We can accomplish this by embracing high-density development in parts of the peninsula that have the infrastructure to support it. We can also explore innovative ideas such as micro housing, while simultaneously investing in public-private partnerships to develop workforce housing. I will be a "neighborhoods mayor," and by that I mean no neighborhood, affluent or not, will be left behind. There are a number of innovative, practical, and affordable solutions available. And as your next mayor, I promise to implement them.
Limited access to affordable commercial real estate and housing puts the stability of Charleston's economy in jeopardy. This is an issue plaguing many factions of our community, including young families, African Americans, young professionals, the elderly, and our workforce as a whole. As someone who grew up in public housing in our city, I understand that if Charleston is to remain economically viable and livable, we must expand affordable commercial real estate and housing for all income levels.
Along with thoughtful discussion and community engagement, I would leverage private capital to create solutions which foster community, empower residents, encourage sustainable living strategies, and are suitable to both the neighborhood and the needs of residents. We must also find ways to incentivize the private sector to develop affordable housing solutions through zoning, without compromising appropriateness. This can be accomplished through innovative public-private partnerships and great architecture.