Town of Hilton Head hears recommendations to alleviate workforce housing issue

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Hilton Head Housing survey now complete

HILTON HEAD, S.C. (WSAV) – The problems of the present and what’s needed for the future of Hilton Head Island took center stage in a special presentation on affordable housing Wednesday.

For seven months, housing consultant Lisa Sturtevant has been conducting research and interviews to find out more about the workforce housing shortage on the island.

Sturtevant was hired by the town to determine what can be done to solve the issue. She returned with 8 different proposals to find something to close the gap between how much it will take to build housing and how much rent needs to be.

Of the 14,000 people cross the bridge every day to come to work on Hilton Head, almost none of those can afford to live here.

Many of the proposals are based on a public-private partnership, where the town may have to give back to people, to give them a chance to set down roots on Hilton Head.

Recommendations include establishing a public/private local workforce housing trust fund between the town and workforce housing needs. That could be administered by the town or a non-profit. Establishing a commercial property reuse policy.

Allowing for commercial properties to be rezoned as residential is also recommended. That would require 50-100% of that property be workforce housing.

Sturtevant believes Hilton Head could take town-owned land and make it available for workforce housing. They could establish a density bonus program for workforce housing which would offer bonuses at approximately 33% for making 50% workforce housing.

Expanding the employer-assisted housing program was also put on the table.

Another proposal: offer property tax and impact fee rebates. Sturdevant believes this could be a regional action, which means countywide, or partner in a home linking/home sharing program.

Making rental housing projects more competitive for low-income housing tax credits was also proposed. This is something HHI is already doing, Sturdevant says.

“Some of the tools include financial tools like the Town providing a low-interest loan to builders so they would build lower income housing,” explains Sturtevant. “Or providing down payments assistance to a potential homebuyer to help close that gap.

“The town is making land use and zoning decisions for example that is one of our recommendations for example, that creates the right incentives to get the private sector involved, that is the Town’s role. But we are not talking about the Town building or managing properties.”

The survey focused on the number of people who need rents to be $1100 or less to be able to have some quality of life. 

It also focused on the current “crisis” many people, including several restaurants, feel they are in already.

“This classist attitude, the Archie Bunker attitude has gone on long enough,” said Clayton Rollison, Owner of Lucky Rooster. “When are we going, to be honest with ourselves. Is it your quality of life or ours that you are trying to protect.”

Overall, the meeting ended with optimism and hope that something that needs to get done. For many, they hope it will get done sooner rather than later.

“If this community committed to 25% of that number that can’t afford $1000 a month, that seems to be an important goal for this year,” said David Aames, Town Councilman.

“They have come to the table,” said Alan Wolf of SERG Group and the Business Workforce Coalition. “We have made a lot of strides in just 2-3 years. Just getting the consultant her was a big step, so we saw today the fruits of our labor.”

The town paid for this study and had previously agreed to put some of these recommendations into action in a “timely manner.” How much time that will take and what proposals might be put in place are now in the hands of the town council.

They could make those decisions as soon as the next meeting on Thursday, April 25.

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