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Cities and towns chase balanced housing stock

Cities continually seek a mix of diverse, accessible and affordable housing options. It’s a challenge to offer developments that meet the needs of a population that ranges from baby boomers to millennials.

Housing trends vary across South Carolina, with some municipalities forced to establish moratoriums on developments, while other areas experience stagnant housing markets.

The Town of Mount Pleasant has a moratorium on apartments. Officials there worried that the proliferation of multifamily projects could upset the residential balance of the community and create other issues, especially related to transportation, according to Planning Director Christiane Farrell.

"Having and maintaining the right mix of housing stock is what is important," she said.

The town recently had several new senior living facilities approved, including two that specialize in memory care and three continuing-care retirement communities. The addition of these senior living facilities likely will satisfy the town’s current demands, Farrell said.

This year, Mayor Linda Page appointed a housing task force to address the availability of affordable housing. The committee will not finish its work until the end of the year but has generally agreed that more affordable and attainable housing is needed, Farrell said.

The City of North Charleston is also looking for housing solutions to address its growth.

"Most of you probably realize that the largest number of housing construction today is apartments. We’re seeing a windfall of them," said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, during a breakfast event before a bus tour of his city at the Association’s Annual Meeting in July. "I hope that people continue seeking residences in that mode, because we’re going to end up with a lot of apartments that are empty, if they don’t."

Summey also pointed to the shortage of low- to moderate-income residential homes.

Growth has also driven up housing prices in Fort Mill.

"Even with hundreds of new homes being built each year, inventory remains relatively low, the number of days spent on market continues to decrease, and average home prices continue to rise," said Fort Mill Planning Director Joseph Cronin. "While this is good news if you’re trying to sell a home, many working families, as well as senior citizens living on fixed incomes, have been priced out of the Fort Mill area."

Over the last 12 months, the town has issued 530 new single-family home permits, with an average construction value of just less than $385,000 per residence. Of these, only six, or 1.1 percent, were valued at less than $200,000, Cronin said. Factors that make it difficult to build more affordable housing are primarily land values, a limited number of areas which are zoned for higher density single-family and multifamily development, and the area’s strong real estate market, he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cronin said economic development professionals have expressed concern that the Fort Mill area has a limited inventory of executive housing. Fort Mill has become a popular destination for corporate executives, and several members of the Carolina Panthers football team also have purchased homes in the area.

Most of the higher-end communities, particularly those with $1 million-plus homes on golf course lots, are substantially built out, as are most of the lakefront lots in neighboring Tega Cay, he said. Barriers to building more executive housing include competition for land from mid-range builders ($350,000 to $500,000), slower rates of return for developers and a lack of utilities in many areas zoned for low density, estate-type lots, Cronin added.

Fort Mill has seen an uptick in senior housing. This year, development began on a 731-home subdivision for residents aged 55 and over. In July of 2015, town council approved a residential rezoning for Traditions at Fort Mill, which will include 252 age-restricted apartments. And in July, council annexed a 13-acre property which will include an age-restricted 200-room continuum-of-care residential facility. 

During the last couple years, several low-income apartment communities have been sold and transitioned to market-rate properties, Cronin said. The majority of the tenants in these communities received housing vouchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or housing assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 program. Many of the residents in these communities were senior citizens living on fixed incomes. There are very few low-income housing options in the Fort Mill area, and the conversion of these properties has further reduced the limited inventory, he said.

Smaller municipalities report a great need for additional housing stock.

The City of Hardeeville needs more senior housing, according to Brana Snowden, the city’s director of planning and development. Most of the building permit applications come from the active adult communities in the city, she said.

Snowden said the city also needs more affordable housing to meet the demands of the community.

"Moderate priced workforce housing is our biggest need—housing for teachers, government workers, firefighters," she said. "In recent markets, developers and lenders have been more focused on the retirement communities or active adult communities. No one has come in to build housing for the workforce that Hardeeville is looking to grow."

Available workforce housing would also help stem the flow of people moving to Savannah, Georgia, Snowden said.

The City of Darlington, meanwhile, is poised to welcome about 30 small rental houses. It would be the first new neighborhood in the city in at least 20 years, according to Economic Development Director Lisa Chalian-Rock.

The developer, a Darlington native, wants to see the city grow, she said.

Darlington has many older, single-family homes and subsidized apartment complexes, but the city needs market-rate apartments, town homes or condos, as well as options for seniors, said Chalian-Rock.

"A diversity of housing types and price ranges would be ideal to accommodate a variety of potential new residents," she said. "Unlike in most communities, multifamily housing in Darlington has declined disproportionally to single-family housing in the last decade."

The condition of the current housing stock also affects potential growth. Many of Darlington’s older houses need structural repairs and do not meet current consumer demand for greener buildings and improved energy efficiency, Chalian-Rock said.