Over the past 10 years, the Greenville Housing Authority has led the investment of $186 million to redevelop, rehabilitate or build new affordable housing in the City of Greenville.
When all the projects under development are completed, the Housing Authority will have nearly tripled its number of affordable housing units in the city.
It’s not enough.
“We can’t produce enough affordable housing,” said Ivory Mathews, the Housing Authority’s executive director, who said there are 4,452 families on the Housing Authority’s waiting list for public housing or vouchers to subsidize rent in privately owned housing.
By the federal government definition, affordable housing is housing that takes no more than a household’s income. The Census Bureau’s 2010-14 American Community Survey shows that more than 35 percent of city residents exceed that level.
In the City of Greenville, however, incomes have not kept up with increasing housing costs and escalating property prices, said Ginny Stroud, the city’s community development administrator.
“It’s a challenge for young professionals, young college graduates, young couples and young families to find housing that’s affordable,” she said.
“When we moved to Greenville and bought our first house, our insurance company said we paid too much, and that was in 1983. It’s a cyclical problem,” Sprague said. “But the degree to which we’re experiencing it now requires some kind of strategy.”
Looking at inclusionary zoning
A consultant hired by the city is working to determine how much affordable housing will be needed in the city in the near future and incentives the city could offer to make affordable housing feasible for developers, Stroud said.
One practice that has been used successfully in other cities is inclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning is a tool that ties affordable housing to the production of market-rate housing by requiring or encouraging a certain percentage of a development or substantial renovation’s housing units be affordable to people of low to moderate incomes. In exchange for that, developers are often given incentives such as a density bonus that allows them to build more units than otherwise allowable, expedited approval or fee waivers.
Terry Farris, a Clemson University associate professor of real estate development and city and regional planning, said developers could only do so much unless they get some kind of financial assistance.
“It’s tough enough to build in Greenville. The market is only so strong,” he said. “If you mandate developers to do it [include affordable housing], you may stop development.”
There’s also a question of how much inclusionary zoning would actually impact the amount of affordable housing in the city, he said.
Multifamily housing has been a big push in Greenville since 2001 with an average of 165 apartments built per year, Farris said.
“To put that in scale, it’s one half of one of the new Beach Company properties,” he said.
City needs ‘a whole package’
Maryland’s Montgomery County pioneered inclusionary zoning in 1974 by requiring new developments with 20 or more housing units to have moderately priced dwelling units. From 1976 to 2011, the program created more than 13,000 affordable housing units, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Stroud uses Chapel Hill, N.C., as an example of a city closer to home using inclusionary zoning. Chapel Hill has many of the same characteristics as the City of Greenville – it’s limited by tight boundaries, there are long waiting lists for affordable rentals, and homes and land values are increasing.
Under the inclusionary zoning ordinance and a similarly worded housing policy that dates back to 2000, 332 new affordable units were created there by 2015, according to Indyweek.com, a regional news website.
The same is happening in Greenville, Mathews said. The Housing Authority distributes $15 million in federal funding annually to private landlords to house 2,768 families throughout Greenville County, she said. Some drop out of the program and the Housing Authority is always looking for landlords who have units available and will accept Section 8 vouchers, she said.
The city needs “a whole package” to increase the amount of affordable housing, from types of housing allowed, zoning, building codes and community engagement, Sprague said.
“The need for affordable housing affects everybody either personally or through their children, the workforce, their parents,” Mathews said. “It’s a problem that concerns everybody.”