What are we going to do about Beaufort County’s affordable housing crisis?

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A recent housing survey showed about half of Beaufort County’s workforce drives in from other counties and more than half of those that are living and working in the county are struggling. The question for our leaders now is… What are we going to do about it?

“When I saw the Bowen study, I was embarrassed,” said County Councilman Michael Covert.

The study proved what we all knew…. Beaufort County’s in the middle of an affordable housing crisis.

“If you’re a food an leisure employee, that it would take 122 percent of your income to pay for your mortgage on the island, or 60 percent of your income to pay for rent in Bluffton,” Covert said. 

That, in addition to the immediate need for 1,000 homes or apartments right now and the thousands of vacant service jobs that could be filled if workers could afford to live here.

“Now we see that raw data, we know what the numbers are, and now we’ve got to put it to work,” Covert said. 

Bluffton’s Affordable Housing Coalition is doing just that.

“Bluffton wants to take the lead and say, ‘it can be done,'” said Bluffton Town Councilman Fred Hamilton.

They started discussions with the public last July and now they’re making moves. 

“We are in contract right now to purchase 1.7 acres,” Hamilton said, “We’re going to provide most of the infrastructure. We’re gonna provide the land, so all we need is a partner to come up with the concept, and give them the density that they need to build affordable housing.”

“There was one point in time where we said the land is what it is and it costs what it costs, but, maybe not,” Covert said, adding that he’s started the conversation in county council.

“I think when you start talking about tax incentives to mitigate some of those costs, to give landowners… 50 Acres, 100 acres, something like that where you can put a substantial amount of, of housing that’s affordable, may need a tax break, may need some impact fee adjustments, whatever it takes, let’s talk about it. ‘Cause if you don’t talk about it, nothing will happen,” he said.

The county’s started a Lowcountry Affordable Housing Coalition with representatives from every part of the county. They’re currently in the process of hiring an executive director to get solid proposals on the table.

“We’ve heard from teachers that said, ‘You know, I’ve got to go,’ and we don’t want that. We don’t want our teachers to leave, we don’t want our firemen and policemen to leave, we don’t want our news reporters to leave. So you know, the cry has been put out there, I heard it very well, loud and clear I heard it, hopefully my cohorts have as well, so now it’s time to do something about it,” Covert said.

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