Mayors discuss affordable housing, transportation at Charleston Leaders meeting

Housing affordablity is a challenge on Charleston’s peninsula. This recently built house is for rent off Rutledge Avenue near Mount Pleasant Street. Leroy Burnell/Staff

Growth issues dominated the conversation at a breakfast for area leaders Wednesday.

Local mayors — Mount Pleasant’s Linda Page, Summerville’s Wiley Johnson, North Charleston’s Keith Summey and Charleston Mayor pro-tem Mike Seekings — gave a mid-year update at the quarterly Charleston Leaders meeting.

Among the issues were affordable housing and mass transit.

Charleston Mayor Pro-tem Mike Seekings. File

Many people in the hospitality industry on and around the peninsula can’t afford to live near their workplace, Seekings said. About 82 percent of the 25,000 employees drive onto the peninsula to work, he said.

“They scream about affordability,” he said.

Build “smartly but densely” is the answer, he said.

“We can then have housing that is accessible to the people that we rely on every day to drive our economy, which is tourism,” he said. “We need to bring people back on the peninsula.”

Mount Pleasant residents have made it clear they don’t want any additional apartments, “but I think we have to do something together as a community and as a region,” Page said.

North Charleston is thankful for apartments, Summey said. Unlike owner-occupied houses, apartments are taxed for school operating budgets.

“They pay school taxes and they don’t have a lot of kids,” he said. “If they don’t build in North Charleston, they’re going out into Dorchester County farther to build, and then they’re driving through North Charleston. But they aren’t paying for any of the infrastructure. They aren’t paying for any of the schools.”

Like North Charleston, Summerville has affordable housing, Johnson said.

“The problem is providing transportation,” he said. “We can’t just build a giant apartment complex that’s affordable without having the roadways widened, turn lanes put in and accessible transportation.”

Two years ago, a $1 million study of transit alternatives to Interstate 26 concluded that the best option for moving people between Summerville and Charleston is a new rapid transit bus line with dedicated lanes.

In November, Charleston voters approved a half-cent sales tax that will generate up to $1.2 billion over 25 years, $600 million of which is earmarked for a rapid transit line and bus system improvements.

“Because it is very heavily funded from federal funding, it has a look-in period on the front end that’s two years,” Seekings said. “There’s nothing we can do about that. We have half-cent sales tax money dedicated to it; the feds have indicated an interest; we know what the route is. Just get out there and support it.”

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