The city of Greenville has pledged a major financial commitment in the efforts to provide affordable housing in the city, as real estate values continue to soar ever higher and traditional downtown neighborhoods become less accessible.
In a chambers packed to capacity, the City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance that would commit $2 million to the cause, with another $1 million to come from private and charitable sources.
The council must give one more vote of approval at its next meeting in a few weeks before the money left over in the city’s general fund can be used.
The city’s staff will return in about four months to outline the best ways to use the money, said Ginny Stroud, the city’s community development administrator.
The city has a blueprint to guide the way.
Over the past year, an affordable housing committee made up of elected officials, community leaders and volunteers worked with a consultant to study the dynamics of housing in the city.
One key finding was that the city has a shortage of about 2,500 units for affordable housing.
The study found that gentrification is displacing low-income households in areas near downtown, threatening to displace “long time African American neighborhoods.”
Also, the study determined there is a sizable shortage of housing options for $500 or less, which is the threshold of affordability for households earning $20,000 or less a year ($10 per hour full time). The shortage will force households to “either live in substandard conditions or be severely cost-burdened.”
The housing that is affordable, the study says, is concentrated in poorer areas and not distributed across the city. And because there is a shortage of apartments for households earning $50,000 or more, units that otherwise would be affordable and available to lower-income people are scarce, a phenomenon the study identifies as “down-ladder pressure.”
The ordinance the city voted on calls for the $3 million total contribution to be split halfway between “rental assistance and homeowner rehab support” and the other half on “site acquisition and improvements.
The money allocated this year isn’t a recurring expense and comes from a fund balance the city ended up with after higher-than-expected revenues. Nor has the city committed to any regulations that would tie new development to affordability.
Don Oglesby, CEO of the Homes of Hope affordable housing charity, said that the city’s dedication of resources is “really monumental” but that he hopes the financial commitment isn’t just a one-time “Christmas gift.”
Mayor Knox White said that city leaders have shown commitment to the cause and are committing even more resources when considering the $2 million to $3 million it expects to donate in city land for the cause.
Patrick Tuttle, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in the West End, said that the move is a “great first step,” but that the government and citizens need to be mindful that affordability is tied to median income, which is rising “at an exponential rate” in established downtown neighborhoods.