By Eric Connor | Original Article
April 1, 2019
It was nearly a decade ago when the affluent Augusta Road community came out in force — forming its own corporation even — to protest the construction of an affordable housing complex next to Augusta Heights Baptist Church.
The $570,000 sale of its 2.5-acre site in April 2010 would help the church weather the heart of the recession, while handing the land over to a developer to create 37 affordable-housing units.
At the same time, neighbors packed a city planning commission meeting and spoke for 2 1/2 hours in opposition. When the commission approved the complex by a split vote, the neighborhood formed a corporation -— Preserve Augusta Road Gateway Inc. — and took the city to court.
Ultimately, the project went forward — and today, the complex has blended into the community, said Traci Barr, a members of JustFaith Greenville, an organization that is pushing churches across Greenville to follow the model of Augusta Heights.
The organization recently held a forum at Augusta Heights church, attended by about 200 people, to discuss how faith communities can use their resources for affordable housing.
In Greenville County, faith communities own about 5,270 acres of land, or a little over 8 square miles, said Tammie Hoy-Hawkins, project manager for the Greenville Housing Fund, a not-for-profit group set up by the city of Greenville in 2017 to invest in affordable housing efforts.
Augusta Heights isn’t the first church to get involved in affordable housing.
Allen Temple AME Church in the West End founded its own Community Economic Development Corporation and has provided close to 80 homes in underprivileged communities like Southernside, Nicholtown and Sterling.
In many cases, Allen Temple is the first to enter a troubled street and begins a turnaround that spreads through the entire neighborhood, said the Rev. James Speed, Allen Temple’s pastor.
“We’ve been instrumental in turning neighborhoods around,” Speed said.
The notion of “subsidized housing” is a designation that is misleading, he said, creating a sense that affordable housing equates to low-income housing projects.
However, Speed said, any homeownership in the U.S. is subsidized housing, mainly through mortgage interest tax breaks.
“All housing is subsidized housing,” he said.
In 2016, a consultant hired by the city, czb LLC, determined that Greenville faced a 2,500-unit deficit of affordable housing. The same consultant last year determined that there was a deficit in Greenville County of nearly 10,000 units.
The consultant defined affordable as no more than 30 percent of a household’s income devoted to housing. Most efforts should be applied not to the lowest on the income ladder but instead to those making between $20,000 to $40,000, also known as “workforce housing” targeted at the likes of teachers and first responders.
The city initially set aside $2 million to start the Greenville Housing Fund. Last year, the city set aside another $1.5 million. The fund applies to households making between $15,000 to $55,000.
Jeff Randolph, president of TRG Communities, said affordable housing efforts require generosity and partnerships between the public and private sector.
“To do affordable housing, there has to be some sort of subsidy,” he said.
Randolph, who today works through Grace Church, handled the development of 90 homes in Greenville’s Viola community, which is widely recognized now as a troubled neighborhood that has become a desirable place to live.
Affordable developments can be miscast as low-quality, when in fact they can be more attractive than higher-priced homes, he said.
Bucky Tarleton, a real estate advisor and affordable housing advocate, said that the re-population of the urban core where bike trails and breweries are being constructed is causing poorer residents to be pushed farther out and away from their low-wage jobs downtown.
“It’s something that’s happening that we don’t see,” Tarleton said. “Everybody wants to be near ‘cool.’ Somebody has to pay a price for ‘cool.'”