At first glance, the map glowing on the screen of Tina Belge’s office computer looks like something out of a show.
It’s not immediately obvious what the map represents. It’s clearly a map of Greenville County, but scattered across its grayscale topography are small green, yellow and red dots. Are they crime statistics? Weather patterns?
Neither, it turns out.
Instead, the map is tracking opportunity.
The new Affordable Housing Digital Map, launched in partnership between the Greenville Affordable Housing Coalition and Furman University, offers the clearest look yet at the scope of the county’s affordable housing needs and opportunities.
Like a live Doppler radar, the map changes to reflect the conditions on the ground.
“It’s not exhaustive and we’re still mapping more,” said Belge, who serves as advocacy and community engagement manager with the Greenville Housing Fund.
And despite its seemingly inscrutable facade, the map is actually quite simple to read.
Green dots represent affordable housing locations that are likely still affordable, yellow dots represent affordable housing locations that are possibly still affordable and red dots represent locations where affordable housing is least likely to still be affordable.
Greenville County is in the midst of a make-or-break moment with regard to affordable housing. The county must produce 10,000 new affordable units and preserve 3,000 more before the end of the decade if it wishes to meet the needs of residents, according to the county’s Affordable Housing Strategic Plan released last year.
Without that, the county could soon face a bevy of problems, from urban sprawl to larger wealth disparities to a worker shortage in its main commercial areas.
Despite the scope of the need, the county has one bright spot, which can be seen glowing on that map.
There are still far more green spots than red — for now.
A long-running collaboration
The map is just the latest aspect in a multi-faceted approach by a collection of 50 stakeholders who make up the Greenville Affordable Housing Coalition.
“Our coalition has members of for-profit, nonprofit, government, neighborhood organizations and more,” Belge said.
Launched in October of last year and facilitated by the Greenville Housing Fund, the coalition serves functions as an army fighting to bring more affordable housing opportunities to Greenville. They are the groups that want to turn those green and yellow dots on the map into homes for families.
In many regards, the coalition is simply a formal acknowledgement of a team effort that’s already been going on for decades.
“Even before I got here and started doing this work, there has always been a history of collaboration on the issue of affordable housing,” said Monroe Free, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greenville.
What makes the new coalition worthwhile, then, is how broad and diverse its membership is, which was necessary if they were to effectively implement he goals as outlined in the Affordable Housing Strategic Plan.
“You have to raise your hand, and that’s what all these groups did,” Brown said. “The truth is we need everyone, all of our partners both public and private, nonprofit and for-profit — we need everyone aligned around these strategies to support affordability in our community.”
So far, that group strategy is paying off. Among the 50 partners, the coalition is hitting its numbers for preservation and production to reach the goal of 10,000 units produced and 3,000 preserved by 2030. At the Greenville Housing Fund alone, nearly 600 units have been created in the past two years and another 200 were preserved, with 1,000 units in the pipeline over the next few years.
Don Oglesby, president and CEO of Homes of Hope, said that pace needs to continue if the county is to meet the extensive wait list of people trying to get affordable units.
“There are a lot of barriers to providing affordable housing,” Oglesby said, “but finding qualified people is not at all one of them.”
Oglesby said the largest barriers to creating affordable housing are the high costs of land and construction materials.
He pointed to the new coalition as a good sign that area stakeholders are taking the issue more seriously than ever.
“That collaboration has been going on for a long time,” he said, “and is only ramping up now.”
But some gaps remain, especially when it comes to providing for those in the lowest income bracket which is anything below 30% of area median income.
Equally tricky is the issue of financing affordable home ownership as opposed to apartment units, which is the best way to create true generational wealth.
“Of all the challenges mentioned, when you apply them to the task of working to support affordable home ownership, it just makes it all the more challenging,” Brown said.
Lastly, the coalition’s efforts at preservation are now hit with the one-two punch of increased material costs due to a post-pandemic flood of home building coupled with the growing pace of aging housing stock.
By breaking down units by type, tracking households by income level and mapping out areas of opportunity to expand affordability, the coalition is combining old-school collaboration with digital tools to ensure the county is on track to meet its goals over the next 10 years — with the data to prove it.
“I really do think Greenville is a very livable community,” Brown. “We want to make sure it stays that way.”
Affordable Housing Coalition includes
Greenville Housing Fund (facilitator)