Charleston’s $20 million affordable housing bond referendum gets push from mayor, business leaders

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg on Thursday with members of Charlestonians for Better Housing, the group advocating for the city’s $20 million affordable housing bond referendum. Abigail Darlington/Staff

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and locals involved with affordable housing organizations announced their support Thursday for the $20 million affordable housing bond referendum heading to city ballots on Tuesday.

The members of the Charlestonians for Better Housing board held the event in front of Williams Terrace, a new Charleston Housing Authority complex for low-income seniors downtown.

If voters allow the city to borrow $20 million for more affordable housing projects, Tecklenburg said there will be many more developments like Williams Terrace to come.

How bad is the shortage of affordable housing in the Charleston region? The Post and Courier will take an expanded look at what led to such a pricey housing market across the region, and the myriad ways it challenges the local economy.

"We will be able to buy and develop product like you see here today, not just for folks with low incomes but working families," Tecklenburg said of the complex at Washington and Laurens streets. "That includes people like teachers and police officers … in a working, middle-income level who now are forced to go way outside the city to find a place that’s affordable to live, and that compounds our traffic congestion."

His announcement followed the group’s flier mailed to voters across the city over the past week, which said, "It’s time to restore some sanity to Charleston’s housing market."

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce is also backing the referendum. In a recent statement, Chairman Patrick Bryant said the board’s support reflects the overall business community’s need for more affordable housing for workers.

“In vetting this bond referendum, more than 100 business leaders had the opportunity to learn more about our housing challenge,” Bryant said. “Support was overwhelming as housing attainability impacts every business. The people strained by housing costs are our colleagues, our neighbors and our families.”

For half of the voting districts without council races this year, it will be the only thing on their ballots — so the endorsements might be particularly helpful in getting those residents to the polls.

The general obligation bond would give the city money to lend to public and private organizations looking to create affordable housing, either through new construction or by rehabilitating existing structures. It would help deliver more than 800 units priced for renters at various income levels.

While the bonds would be backed by the city’s taxing powers — which will help insure a lower interest rate — the debt is expected to be repaid over time by rent revenue from the new homes. It doesn’t involve any tax hikes for residents.

The bond issue would be twice the sum the city asked voters to borrow in 2001 for the authority’s effort to build affordable housing. That was enough to build 64 affordable rental units. About half of them went up downtown at Huger, King, Simons and Romney streets. Another 28 were constructed in the Blakeway Condos on Daniel Island.

Tecklenburg said the situation had grown enough since then to warrant the larger bond issue.

"Market forces and the pricing of real estate has gone up so much that it’s driven people out," Tecklenburg said. "The result is on Interstate 26."

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