By Cindy Landrum | Original Article
Oct. 20, 2017

Greenville’s Housing Trust Fund should focus on projects serving households with incomes between $15,000 and $55,000, a consultant told members of the Greenville City Council.

Earlier this year, the Greenville City Council approved using $2 million of the city’s fund balance to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city. czbLLC, an Alexandria, Va.-based urban planning and neighborhood development consulting firm, recommended that money be combined with $1 million from philanthropic, corporate, and charitable sources to create a housing trust fund that would help address the city’s shortage of more than 2,500 affordable housing units. Westminister Presbyterian Church has pledged $100,000 to the fund.

czb recommended the Greenville Housing Trust Fund be housed in a dormant subsidiary of Community Works, a nonprofit financial organization that aims to build a brighter future for underserved families and communities through financial education, lending, and investing.

“Once you get to $55,000 a year, you can pretty readily participate in the housing market. Once you’re at 55, you’re in,” said Charles Buki, czb principal.

But teachers and first responders, especially those who are young, will struggle in Greenville’s housing market, he said. So will the city’s service-oriented workforce such as hotel and restaurant workers. “Anything below $55,000 is fair game with the sweet spot being between $20,000 and $40,000,” Buki said.

The affordable housing strategy work group told the City Council that the city needs a “durable response,” one that doesn’t look or feel like “one and done.”

Initially, the Housing Trust Fund will work within the city limits but eventually would work across all of Greenville County. “Housing markets are on both sides of jurisdictional lines,” Buki said.

To the extent possible, the Housing Trust Fund would focus on projects in the city’s special emphasis neighborhoods and in West Greenville, where there are strong fears of gentrification.

Preservation of affordable units should be a priority, Buki said. An example would be if the owner of a private multi-family rental property needed a quarter of a million dollar roof, the trust could help with the cost with a proviso that the units remain affordable.

“If rent is $525 per month and the cost of the new roof would make them $825 per month, that won’t work. Let’s get the trust involved to keep those units in the inventory,” he said.

Mayor Knox White said when a contingent from Greenville traveled to Austin, Texas, a city that also has an affordable housing shortage, officials there said if they had a do-over, they would have done more to preserve existing affordable units.

The affordable housing committee recommended that if Greenville County and other municipalities choose to participate in the Housing Trust Fund, they would have to make contributions, which could include money, land, or regulatory changes.

Greenville County Council has formed a committee to study affordable housing and has hired czb as its consultant.

District 25 representative Ennis Fant said he’s been encouraged by the commitment the county has to affordable housing.

“I did not think the Council would be as receptive as it has been,” Fant said, adding that it is imperative the city and county work together to address the problem. “Affordability in housing doesn’t stop at the county line.”