Friday, January 13, 2017

Proposed changes could increase workforce housing requirements in Charleston

City Council sends new ordinance to committee

Posted by Dustin Waters on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 10:17 AM

  • flickr user Ron Cogswell
Charleston City Council may soon consider an ordinance that would raise the bar on workforce housing in the city. The new changes would increase the duration and amount of required workforce housing for developers seeking unlimited density bonuses and reduced parking requirements under the city’s Mixed-Use Workforce Housing zoning. Earlier this week, city leaders recommended forwarding the proposed ordinance to the city’s Community Development Committee, which is set to meet at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 26 in City Council chambers.

Currently, developers applying for this zoning designation and all the incentives that go along with it are required to set aside 15 percent of available units as workforce housing for at least 10 years. This means that families with qualifying incomes — less than or equal to 80 percent of the area mean income — can rent workforce units for below-market prices. The proposed ordinance would increase the amount of required workforce units to 20 percent over 25 years. Other proposed changes include requiring that workforce housing units be comparable in size to market-rate units and intermixed among a development. Developers would be prevented from clustering these less expensive units.

Another big change would allow developers to pay into the city’s affordable/workforce housing account in lieu of providing the required number of workforce units. Payable on a per unit basis, the fee would be equal to the difference between market rent prices and affordable rent, based on the number of bedrooms per unit, multiplied by 300. Funds paid into this new account would be used to create or improve workforce and affordable housing, including redeveloping existing housing stock, purchasing land, and loans to affordable housing providers.

Up for first reading Tuesday, the proposed changes drew comment from community members and developers who fell on both sides of the issue. Ron Owens, chief financial officer for the Post and Courier’s parent company, Evening Post Industries, urged caution on the part of city leaders as they consider the new ordinance.

“We own 11 acres in downtown Charleston. We think affordable housing is important, but unfortunately believe that the changes recommended in the workforce housing code are not appropriate and would not accomplish the long-term goals set forth here ... We believe it would discourage development and reduce the number of housing units in town,” said Owens, who also serves on the executive committee of the Lowcountry Housing Trust. “We do think that adjustments could be made to the workforce housing ordinance, and we’d like to participate along with others to come up with the right approach to workforce and affordable housing.”

Owens was joined by a representative from Greystar Real Estate Partners in calling for members of City Council to reconsider the ordinance as written.

“As drafted, the current proposed ordinance includes increased burdens on the developer with no additional incentives for the developer than before,” read a letter from Bob Faith, chairman and CEO of Greystar.

Among those speaking in favor of the proposed changes were Winslow Hasty of the Historic Charleston Foundation; Latonya Gamble, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association; and Tracy Doran, president of nonprofit affordable housing developer the Humanities Foundation

“Our resources have been dwindling. Our tax credits that are our major funding source have become much more competitive. They’re going to rural areas, so it’s very important to have tools to use to create affordable housing,” said Doran. “There isn’t one fix, but I support this. I believe it will encourage developers to include workforce and affordable housing. I also support the fee in lieu because I think having funding that could go into help bridge the gap in some of our developments where we need extra funding would be very helpful in helping us create it.”

Particularly burdened by the lack of adequate affordable housing on the Charleston peninsula, representatives from the Eastside neighborhood spoke about the potential effect that the addition of affordable-housing requirement would have on the area.

“This would be a great addition for the city of Charleston,” said Gamble. “It should be inclusive to all people and not some people. This will impact my community greatly.”

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