Nonprofit Aims to Provide Affordable Housing; Low-Income North Charleston Apartments to Be Upgraded

Ruth Curtis talks about improvements coming to Delta Street Apartments after the 20-unit North Charleston structure was recently sold. Curtis has lived at the low-income housing development since 2009. Warren L. Wise/Staff

Ruth Curtis walks through her modest, one-bedroom apartment, pointing out the portable fireplace she installed to save money on energy costs and the charcoal gray cat she rescued to keep her company.

An upgrade to the aging Delta Street Apartments in North Charleston is on the way after it changed hands recently, and Curtis couldn’t be happier.

“I can hardly wait for it to be done, especially the new windows,” the 65-year-old Army veteran said. “The windows are so old, and they are single-pane. That will help on my electric bill.”

With the help of a $607,000 loan from the S.C. Community Loan Fund, a Lowcountry nonprofit that helps sustain affordable housing, Florida-based Bluewater Horizons plans to fix up the multifamily, U-shaped structure behind the Catalina Inn and Berlin’s Restaurant Supply on Rivers Avenue.

The 20-unit Delta Street Apartment building in North Charleston recently changed hands and will be upgraded through a loan from the S.C. Community Loan Fund to help with affordable housing. Warren L. Wise/Staff

Improvements to the 20-unit building, built more than 50 years ago, include new windows, plumbing and electrical systems, some of which are original.

One unit has already been upgraded, including new floors, cabinets, doors and countertops, and others will see improvements as they come open.

“It’s difficult to do the work with folks in there,” said Shawn Sprinkel, who heads Bluewater Horizons. “We want to stabilize the building and make sure it’s safe and comfortable for folks that are in there. We are giving the units a good face-lift — to a pretty high level, not just putting paint on the walls.”

The windows will be replaced later this year to make the units more energy-efficient and help save on electricity costs for tenants, many on limited incomes. Water heaters also will be upgraded to save on utility expenses.

“The delicate balance is to do it within a fairly tight budget, keep the costs reasonable, provide the apartments to some low-income families and still meet the affordability guidelines,” he said.

A statement from the lender said Bluewater has “committed to keeping the units affordable to low- and moderate-income renters in the community.”

Slightly higher rental rates will help pay for the investment and upgrades.

“We will make some slight increases, but they will be small,” Sprinkel said. “They will still be below median income guidelines of the area. In some cases, rent will be closer to the market rate and in other cases it will be a good ways from the market rate (on the lower side).”

Curtis said if the improvements cause her $475-a-month rent to rise slightly, it will be worth it. For now, the retired hotel service worker is helping with the improvements by cleaning out refrigerators, stoves and cabinets as units become vacant.

“It keeps me busy and gives me something to do,” she said.

An empty unit beside Curtis’ apartment sits with a hole in a bedroom door, dirty carpet and an old window air-conditioning unit.

“I hope they will fix all of that, too,” Curtis said. “It certainly needs it.”

For the most part, she said the community is quiet and trouble-free.

“Every once in a while, you get a little hoorah going on, but it’s OK,” she said. “I’ve heard shots fired around here more than once, but not as much lately. When I first moved in (in 2009), I would hear shots and hit the floor. And there’s not really the drug dealing that it used to be in the neighborhood.”

New outside security cameras have helped knock out some of the undesirable activity near the apartment building, Sprinkel said.

“More than anything, it’s made the area safer,” he said. “There were a lot of folks hanging around doing things they shouldn’t, but the word has gotten around about the cameras.”

Sprinkel’s company bought the brick, two-story structure in March for $651,000. It last sold in 2014 for $285,000, according to Charleston County property records.

Eight of the units are for low-income residents and 12 house moderate-income tenants.

To qualify as low-income, residents must earn 51 percent to 80 percent of the area median income. Moderate-income tenants can make 81 percent to 120 percent of the area median income to qualify.

The 2017 median income for a family of four in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties is $68,800. Low-income units would be available to households earning $35,000 to $55,000 annually, and moderate-income units would be available to households earning just over $55,000 to $82,000.

Housing affordable to these income levels supports low-wealth households and the growing senior population, as well as Charleston-area teachers, firefighters, young professionals and hospitality workers, according to Victoria Baker, communications and development manager for S.C. Community Loan Fund.

“We all know there is a real affordable housing crisis in Charleston,” Baker said. “Bluewater is doing its part to help address the issue.”

The loan “means more of North Charleston’s most vulnerable renters, like working families, seniors or individuals on a fixed income, can find a safe and affordable place to call home,” according to the lender.

Bluewater Horizons has collaborated with the S.C. Community Loan Fund before on another Lowcountry housing project.

In 2013, the company received a $159,000 loan to upgrade a four-unit affordable housing development on Aldrich Avenue, off Remount Road in North Charleston. Bluewater made similar upgrades to the low-income apartments there, according to Baker. Bluewater paid $113,500 for the property that same year.

“My goal is to buy properties that are going to improve the street they are on in an area where the overall neighborhood has been a little neglected,” Sprinkel said. “I really believe in neighborhood stabilization for our society overall.”

He added, “If a place is crappy, the people will just say, ‘Let’s get out of here and move somewhere else.’ I want it to be a place they call home.”

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