BLUFFTON, S.C. (WSAV) — Affordable and workforce housing has been the talk of the Lowcountry for years.

Now, one local town isn’t just talking about it, they are acting.

The Town of Bluffton and the developer, Workforce State of Mind, LLC, have partnered to build at least a dozen housing units at 1095 May River Road.

“It means that no matter what your economic status is, Bluffton can be your home,” said Bluffton Town Councilman Fred Hamilton.

The Town bought the 1.78-acre site in 2018 and is joining forces in a private/public partnership with the builder to keep the units at an affordable price point.

“We are past the tipping point. It is so needed now,” said State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, a managing member of Workforce State of Mind.

The May River Road housing project is the town’s first affordable housing project via a public-private partnership and its second affordable housing development.

Town Manager Stephen Steese said this is just the first step for the town to address its workforce housing crisis.

“The project has been years in the making,” Steese said. “It began in 2018 when the town purchased 1095 May River Road for $263,000 to reserve it for affordable housing,” Steese said. “The request for proposals for a development partner was issued in 2020, and the town signed the partnership in August 2022 and construction will begin once the design phase is complete.”

The town will donate the land and reimburse the developer for the planning, permitting, design and infrastructure costs to reduce the overall cost of the homes.

The new neighborhood will be comprised of at least a dozen attached single-family homes which must be occupied by the owner. They are not available for rent.

The neighborhood will be protected by a 30-year affordability covenant, which means these homes will be affordable and reserved for those who are income-qualified, regardless of current market values, for three decades.

Four units will be available to families whose household income is less than 60% of Beaufort County’s Area Median Income (AMI), four units will be available to households whose income is less than 80% (AMI) and the last third of the units will be available to households whose incomes are less than 100% of AMI. Specific income ranges for each category are listed below.

“Four of the 12 units will be at 60% of area median income, 4 will be at 80%, and 4 at 100% of area median income,” Streese said.

“Town Council has prioritized researching affordable housing initiatives for years,” Mayor Lisa Sulka said. “I am proud town leaders took a strong step forward and signed a partnership to put these decade-long discussions into action. It is a complex issue, and it takes political courage to keep going among the surge of economic pushbacks.”

“The Town is putting decades of conversations and brainstorming into action and backing it up with an initial half-million-dollar investment in the project,” said Town Councilman Fred Hamilton, the Chairman of the Town’s Affordable Housing Committee. “While this project won’t solve the issue in its entirety, it is a definite step forward and will solve this problem for at least a dozen families. The town will pursue additional projects to continually address this issue.”

“To find a local builder, they are using local architects and engineers, and hopefully local builders. Because they care, they understand the need in this community and they understand it is something that is needed and it will make their community better,” said Streese.

Matt Lyle, a managing member of Workforce State of Mind, said he is pleased to use his spectrum of expertise in the building industry to develop a neighborhood that will help families afford a house in Bluffton.

“Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to build everything from charitable housing in developing nations to luxury real estate in our community,” Lyle said. “I am proud to be a part of a project which will bring home ownership to Bluffton residents who may have thought it was out of reach.”

“It’s the American dream to move into a house and then move into a bigger house and bigger house and bigger house and this is exactly what this starts,” said Herbkersman.

With nearly 8,000 affordable homes needed in Beaufort County alone, the time is now to not just study the problem, but start fixing it, according to Herbkersman.

“We must do what we can, where we are, and with what we have to solve a local, statewide and national affordable housing deficit,” Herbkersman said. “I am optimistic this project can be a template for other municipalities and private developers to work together to help residents live in the same town in which they work.

“We’ve been talking about it,” said Hamilton. “We’ve been saying this is important but we haven’t put the effort to make it come to fruition and now is the time.”

The next step is to finish designing the project. Once the design is complete, site work and construction are estimated to take about two years. A more detailed schedule of timelines will evolve as the project progresses.