Housing trust

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LOCAL OFFICIALS WANT TO WORK TOGETHER TO SOLVE HOUSING CRUNCH

Though it is still in its early stages, a new plan aims to alter how the Lowcountry approaches its workforce housing crunch.

The Southern Lowcountry Regional Board (SoLoCo) — a regional think tank with representation from various government bodies in southern Beaufort County and Jasper County — is forming a housing trust fund focused on bringing more “attainable housing” options to the region.

“Attainable housing encompasses a price point that our working families can attain, whether it’s a teacher or a fireman or policeman or a plumber,” said Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams, who spearheaded the project. “It’s attainable for the workforce that we need in this area so critically.”

Last year, The Town of Hilton Head Island hired a housing consultant to recommend how to make workforce housing affordable. The plan developed by this consultant in conjuntion with town staff includes participation in a regional trust fund for housing that aspires to have contributions from Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, the City of Beaufort, Hardeeville, Port Royal and Beaufort County.

THE WHOLE IDEA OF SOLOCO IS THAT THE PROBLEMS AND THE SOLUTIONS ARE IN THE REGION. IF WE LOOK AT THEM AS A REGION, WE CAN SOLVE MORE TOGETHER THAN WE CAN ALONE.
- HARDEEVILLE MAYOR HARRY WILLIAMS

The groundwork for the regional housing trust began with the formation of the SoLoCo board in 2017, bringing together city and county officials to collaborate on solutions to problems facing the region. One of the most pressing issues was the lack of moderate or low-priced housing, so a sub-committee led by Beaufort County community development director Eric Greenway proposed the multi-jurisdictional housing trust fund.

Williams said there are nearly 800 housing trust funds in the United States, including those in Savannah and Greenville. The sub-committee studied those programs as well as a regional program in King County, Washington.

The notion quickly gained traction with the group and even drew interest from outside the SoLoCo boundaries, as the towns of Beaufort, Port Royal and Yemassee approached the group about joining the alliance.

“I was really quite proud that we were fostering an idea that people were going out of their way to be a part of,” Williams said. “The whole idea of SoLoCo is that the problems and the solutions are in the region. If we look at them as a region, we can solve more together than we can alone.”

SoLoCo members are pooling resources to hire a consultant to set up the fund. After that, a board of directors will be appointed to oversee the fund and establish the initial investments needed from each jurisdiction, as well as determine how the money will be allocated. Some examples might include paying down development fees for builders who are providing the types of housing needed in the area — the sub-committee’s report identified moderate market-rate rental housing (rents of $750-$1,250 per month) and entry-level for-sale housing (priced below $150,000) as the greatest needs — or providing gap financing to help first-time homebuyers.

“We are all facing a workforce shortage, and we can’t solve that if the workforce has no place to live,” Williams said.

Once the fund is established, Williams said, the group can begin soliciting funding from other sources, such as corporate contributions and federal and state grants. The Greenville fund parlayed an initial $2 million investment into $47 million in leveraged funding, according to the sub-committee’s report. Many of the details — including where the housing will be built — will be determined later.

The key to the plan’s success, Williams says, is for officials to put aside their own self-interests and focus on doing what is best for the entire region.

“These kinds of issues do not stop at the artificial boundaries that we as governments create. We’re trying to look at them from a top-level perspective,” Williams said. “This could be one of the most significant initiatives for the region in quite some time.”