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Greenville growth creating a hidden cost

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – In 2017, Greenville was named the fourth fastest growing city in the country; however, the growth has outpaced the city’s ability to keep up with the demand.

While older neighborhoods are becoming revitalized, people who’ve called those neighborhoods home for generations are being displaced.

Greenville County released an affordable housing study in April. It estimates it will cost nearly $8.5 million every year for the next 20 years to address the county’s housing challenges.

Even though that cost is tangible, every new house built comes with a hidden cost.

Alice Gary is a 72-year-old breast cancer patient who lived in her home on Leach Street in Greenville for 25 years.

“I got a letter in the mail saying 30 days,” Gary said.

A developer told her and three of her neighbors they had to move and has spent the last year flipping their homes.

What happened on Leach Street is just a snapshot of what’s happening in many Greenville neighborhoods.

“Greenville has become a place to be, realtors and homeowners are flipping their houses and allowing people who can pay more money to come in and pay more money,” Fr. Patrick Tuttle of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church said.

The affordable housing crisis is disproportionately affecting renters who are being asked to move when the homeowner decides to sell the home for the increased amount of money they’re being offered for it. People who are homeowners are experiencing their home values rise along with their property taxes.

“We’re like fish in the pond, or in the lake, when are they going to throw that rod in and catch us, and take me out of my home or tell me you have to leave or your rent is going to be so much,” said NaKesha Mayes who grew up and now rents a home in the Sterling community.

At the end of Mayes street on the other side of Leach Street, a developer is building townhomes with a price tag near $700,000.

“Come on, that’s ridiculous,” Mayes said. “Nobody can afford that. Not in this community.”

Mayes, who’s single mother of two, works a full-time job at a major employer in the area. She says she’s always wanted to own a home in the neighborhood where she grew up, but she says that dream is becoming more distant.

“I understand development, but let us have some…So the low income or the middle class can also be able to purchase and stay in the community, to enjoy the swamp rabbit trail, enjoy the downtown area,” Mayes said. “We want that too.”

There are groups trying to make that possible. In April, the Sterling Land Trust broke ground on their first home.

“We think that if we help to set the tone of what the expectation is, then hopefully any builders who would come after us would follow that same suit,” James L. Thompson, the Sterling Land Trust president said.

The Land Trust purchased four lots in the community where they plan to build affordable homes and educate future buyers on homeownership.

However, the issue runs deeper than displacement..

“The market includes people who are cashiers and dishwashers, but if your housing doesn’t include them, then you’ve just moved all of those folks out of the city who now depend on an additional cost for their housing and a car or the bus service when it’s on time or when it works,” Fr. Tuttle said.

There’s a push by non-profits and churches like St. Anthony’s to keep low-income people in their neighborhoods.

“From our collection basket, we have purchased 12 homes in the area,” Fr. Tuttle said.

Over the years, the church has fixe up the homes and rent controlled them. However, Fr. Tuttle says now the church is being outpaced by development.

“We are trying very hard to continue, but it slowed us down where we could do one a year or two a year, now we’ll be able to do one every three years,” Fr. Tuttle said.

The competition for people wanting the homes is stiff.

“If your community is within three miles or 4 miles of downtown Greenville, you’re going to be targeted if you’re not already,” Sylvia Palmer, the Nicholtown Neighborhood Association president said.

Sylvia Palmer has called Nicholtown home for more than 6 decades. She owns her home and her mother’s home that she inherited. Although she’s never offered or thought about selling her home, she says she’s inundated with solicitations.

“As many as six from the same person over the period of a year and a half,” Palmer said. “Now these are just the ones I’ve saved, I’ve thrown away just as many. “

The influx of people moving to city centers isn’t unique to Greenville, but developers say right now Greenville is a good economic investment.

“We see a lot of apartments coming to downtown Greenville because it’s been good business,” Russ Davis, the owner of the development company Homes Urban said. “It’s a very popular place to be.”

However, very few of the apartments or homes in downtown are affordable for most. Affordability is measured by people spending 30 percent of their gross income on housing.

The Greenville Housing Authority, TGHA, says they have 9000 families on their waiting list for affordable housing in the county, which equates to more than 27,000 people.

“The amount of people coming into our community is growing faster than our ability to put more units on the ground,” TGHA Executive Director Ivory Mathews said.

TGHA will be putting 113 affordable units at the old Scott Towers site, but that only makes a small dent in the nearly 9500 affordable unit shortage in the county and 2500 unit shortage in the city.

County leaders say it’s a problem that’s far-reaching in the community.

“The people who make $200,000 and say they’re not interested, well, they need to be because if these people don’t have anywhere to live, they can’t work on your jobs,” Greenville County Councilman Ennis Fant said.

The effects of the housing crisis are also causing an employment problem within the industries that drive the economy in downtown. People who work in the hotels and restaurants downtown can’t afford to live near work. Many of the workers rely on public transportation, and buses don’t run late night or are very limited on the weekends.

“People who can’t afford housing and have to move every year is an unstable environment, not only for their families but for companies,” Bogue Wallin, the Greenville Housing Fund Chairman said. “You can’t rely on those workers, and for us to continue to grow as a community we need to have the right kind of affordable and workforce housing that supports the employment base for our city and our area. “

The Greenville Housing Fund gives loans to private and non-profit developers who are project ready with a target of providing homes for families with incomes between $15,000 and $55,000.

In 2017, Greenville City Council voted on using $2 million from the General Fund to help kick-start the Fund.

Rep. Leola Robinson-Simpson, a democrat from Greenville District 25, filed H. 5158 , the South Carolina Gentrification Trust Fund house bill. It allows county or city councils to impose a one-time impact fee on private developers for each new residential and commercial unit constructed. The money would go to the SC Gentrification Trust Fund with hopes of the legislature appropriating $5 million to the fund annually. The Fund would provide financial assistance for relocation of low-income families, churches, and groups who become displaced by gentrification. However, a developer would be able to exempt himself if he dedicates at least 15 percent of the housing development to low-income housing.

Developers say they don’t mind building affordable housing if it can still be profitable which Davis says would be possible through subsidies.

“We still have to pay our debts, we have to pay our lenders, and we have to pay something to the people who invest money in the projects,” Davis said.

He believes benefits such as tax abatements and waived fees would make more developers want to get on board with building more affordably.

However, Davis is also a proponent of inclusionary zoning which levels the playing field.

“When I go buy a piece of property, I’m offering that I’ll have 10 percent affordable or based upon whatever the number is, and if somebody else comes in, it’s the same deal,” Davis said.

Greenville County rolled out their affordable housing plan in April. The county has plans to build around 150 new homes priced between $120,000 and $150,000.

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