People illegally living in boats, cars on Hilton Head property

Local News

Property owner didn't have permits for any of the two dozen plus people on property. Brings up new questions about workforce housing.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – A Hilton Head Island realtor is in trouble with the law after renting out his property. But it’s what people were living in on that property that has shocked some.

The case has put the workforce housing problem on the island back in the spotlight.

Tad Segars is due in court Wednesday to face more than 30 code violations connected to his property on Reggies Road on Hilton Head.

The report and body camera footage from code enforcement agents obtained by News 3 show two dozen or more people living on his two properties and paying hundreds in rent for barely habitable living conditions.

“The guy used to live in this boat. Then he moved to the bigger sundance in the back,” one code enforcer said.

“We want to make sure you are ok living there. You are not living there against your will?” another asked.

“No,” an occupant responded.

Those were just two of the interactions by code enforcers on the property in early December, captured on body camera video.

On the scene, they saw people living in cars, boats and RVs with electrical power coming from cords strung from a nearby house, and no legal and checked sewage system or fire plan.

“Like 911, if you call 911 and they don’t know you are living here. It’s not a building that has been approved and permitted, they don’t know to come in and rescue you,” explained agents to one of the two dozen-plus people found living on the property.

Those people were apparently paying $600 or more a month for a chance to live there.

“Some people were living in an RV and there’s nothing wrong with living in an RV in of itself,” explained Josh Gruber, Assistant Town Manager. “But Town code requires an RV to be in authorized campground or RV park because those places have the infrastructure in place to service the RV’s so pump out stations, electrical hookups things like that, things that have been built to code rather than just an electrical cord that’s been run from someone’s house.”

Segars, who owns the property, has told multiple media outlets he was trying to help the housing issues on the island.

Town officials say they don’t believe this is an isolated incident.

“I think we would be naive to say this is an isolated incident. I don’t know if it would be going on to the extent that we have here but I have to believe there are other places on the island where people have been living in places that have no been inspected or permitted or living in places that don’t meet the underlying zoning requirements,” explained Gruber.

This situation brings up many questions about the need for workforce housing on the island.

A housing consultant study commissioned by the Town of Hilton Head Island was completed in April. She said that as many as 2,800 units were needed to make a difference in the workforce housing issues. It’s a number the Town says is not possible in the short term, and possibly ever.

News 3 wanted to know why no visible changes or ideas have come forward from the Town or Council since then. Deputy Director of Community Development Jennifer Ray says the town wanted to take its time to get whatever they do right.

“Due diligence. We didn’t want to throw out some recommendations or policy suggestions that we didn’t think we’re going to be beneficial or have the desired outcome,” said Ray. “It would be palatable for the community and also help the employer.”

“Can we find areas that we can create multi-family housing which is appropriate rather than what is there now?” Gruber asked. “Can we find transportation options that allow us to alleviate and help people get here to work on the island rather than live an hour and a half away?”

Many employers have already done their part by buying buildings for their employees to rent. Town officials are counting on private businesses to continue finding ways to alleviate their own workforce problems.

Gruber also hopes more regular people will also step up to help.

“We have so many homes where people have apartments over the garage or poolhouses where if they could allow someone to live with them,” he said. “If you have an on-site caregiver that comes in three days a week, wouldn’t it be great if they could live over the garage in case something came up?”

While admitting they “do not have a policy to encourage a developer to build workforce housing,” town officials do have a special Planning Commission meeting next week to discuss multiple ideas that may help ease the housing issue.

Some of the ideas they will discuss include:

  • The conversion of commercial spaces at least in part to residential
  • Working with the Beaufort and Jasper counties on a regional housing trust fund that could lead to microloans or gap financing for developers to build more workforce units
  • Bonus density

“Bonus density, if you were building a certain amount of units on property, if you were willing to make some of those affordable units then you could get bonus units, more units than you could normally have,” explained Ray.

The council could vote on any proposals in late February or early March, with a timetable to change code six months down the road.

All the people currently living on Segars’ property will have to move. The town has promised to help find them new, affordable housing somewhere in the area.

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