Charleston Officials Push for Affordable Housing Bill in the Statehouse, Call Situation a ‘Crisis’

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, has sponsored a bill that would allow local governments to pass ordinances requiring developers to include a percentage of affordable housing units in new projects or pay an additional development fee. File

COLUMBIA — As Charleston and other regions of the state continue to witness a boom in population and development, a new Statehouse bill aims to make it easier for local governments to prompt apartment developers into providing affordable housing.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and representatives from other South Carolina cities were at the Statehouse on Wednesday lobbying for the legislation that would allow local governments to require housing developers to either include a percentage of affordable units in new building projects, or pay an additional fee.

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said he sponsored the bill because of what he calls an “affordable housing crisis” in the state.

With the Charleston peninsula and surrounding communities undergoing significant development, Kimpson said it can be difficult for public school teachers and medical school students, among others, to afford housing in Charleston County. The median price of a home in the county in March was $315,000.

There is nowhere to live for the average working-class person,” Kimpson said.

After listening to Tecklenburg and officials from Greenville discuss the need for more affordable housing in their cities, a Senate subcommittee voted to move the legislation forward.

“They’ve recognizing the need, not only in Charleston, but around the state,” Tecklenburg said after the vote. “This is the first step.”

But with only a few weeks left on this year’s legislative calendar, the bill has very little chance of passing before state lawmakers leave for the year on May 11.

If the legislation receives enough traction to pass in 2018, it would give local governments the ability to enact zoning ordinances or permitting requirements mandating up to 25 percent of new housing units be priced as affordable housing. Statehouse sessions run for two years in South Carolina.

The bill also allows local governments that pass such ordinances to offer tax and permitting incentives for the housing developers that comply with the affordable housing goals, including jumping to the front of the line for zoning and permit review.

For developers not interested in pricing a percentage of their units so they can be purchased or rented by low- or moderate-income families, they can pay an additional development fee that would be put toward future affordable housing efforts.

Charleston has an opt-in zone that gives apartment developers more height and density in the upper peninsula if they choose to price 15 percent of their units below market rates for 10 years. Changes to the ordinance now under review aim to increase the number of units to 20 percent, which would remain affordable for 25 years.

Kimpson’s bill would allow the city to pass stronger regulations requiring apartment developers to include affordable units in their floor plans, rather than merely giving them that as an option.

Under the proposed bill, any individual or family making less than 80 percent of the local median income would be able to qualify for that affordable housing. On average statewide, that would include a family of four making up to $46,650 a year.

In Charleston County, where the median income is $68,800, it would include even more people.