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ITK: No Vacancy

Beaufort County can’t afford to rest on workforce housing concerns.

Story by Hilary Kraus

“Only 10 percent of single-family homes are available for $200,000 or less.”

Mention the subject of affordable housing on Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County and the first reaction is, “There is none.”

Dig a little deeper — and you don’t have to do much more than scratch the surface — and the reality is affordable housing is most dire to our workforce.

County and town officials and employers are keenly aware of the problem, which is most troublesome on Hilton Head Island where high rents often amount to off-Island living and long commutes. Nearly 4,400 people (about 16.8 percent) commute 50 miles or more each way to get to work, according to the Hilton Head Island Workforce Housing study. Less than 15 percent of Bluffton workers and less than 12 percent of City of Beaufort workers have such long commutes, according to a countywide study.

The Hilton Head study was prepared for the Town of Hilton Head by Lisa Sturtevant & Associates, LLC, an Alexandria, Va.-based consultant. Among the many factors, the study shows in order for Hilton Head to keep up with its needs and grow its economy, 200 affordable housing units need to be built annually in the next decade.

The study was first presented in September 2018 and was followed by focus group discussions in November and then a weeklong’s worth of community meetings in February, where Sturtevant and her team listened to more than 250 Hilton Head Island residents and employers. The recommendations to the town were scheduled to go to a vote in late April.

More than 4,400 people commute 50 miles or more each way to get to work on Hilton Head Island. Finding and keeping quality workers is an ongoing issue for many local businesses.

The Hilton Head Workforce study also took into account many of the same findings and concerns addressed in the 2017-18 Beaufort Housing Needs Assessment report, a countywide study prepared by Bowen National Research of Pickerington, Ohio.

“We heard a lot of similar things and one reoccurring theme is a general understanding there is a need for workforce housing, but there is a sense that the challenge is that there is not enough land,” Sturtevant said about the comments from the public.

The Hilton Head report looked at what the constraints could be to building 200 single-family homes, condominiums and apartments yearly, which is a slight increase of the current rate. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, there were 810 new housing units built on Hilton Head Island between 2011 and 2017, or an average of 116 new units per year.

There is a significant need for rental housing affordable to working households with incomes below $35,000. That means homes that have rents of $875 or less. There are currently an estimated 3,166 cost-burdened households living on Hilton Head with incomes of less than $35,000, according to the Hilton Head report.

The Bowen study reported population grew more than 15 percent in the last seven years, and is expect to grow another 10 percent in the next five.

It also showed Beaufort County homes valued at $300,000 or more make up 70 percent of the houses. Only 10 percent of single-family homes are available for $200,000 or less. 

Sturtevant explained there are towns/cities in the United States that find themselves in similar situations and are tackling the problem through innovative solutions such as land substitutes, reduced financing and/or affordable housing trust funds. She explained this is not the same as public housing.

“My goal is that this doesn’t become another study on the shelf or doesn’t become a study that doesn’t work,” Sturtevant said. “They’ll be some places where changes don’t make a lot of sense and others where maybe it makes sense and are good ideas. We’re looking at the land-use categories and the zoning districts and the allowable uses.” LL

Local businesses taking the problem into their own hands

The limited affordable housing inventory on Hilton Head Island and other areas in Beaufort County did not happen overnight. So don’t expect solutions by tomorrow morning.

However, some city organizers and private developers are taking matters into their own hands and helping address the problem, be it one brick at a time, so to speak. The Richardson Group, an island-based real estate and marketing firm, is redesigning buildings for mixed use. In Beaufort, the city made a small dent in the problem when it transferred a vacant lot to the Beaufort Housing Authority to be used for new housing.

The inventory on Hilton Head is plentiful. Thirty-five percent of the commercial real estate on the Island is idle, Hilton Head Town Council member William Harkins stated at a recent public planning committee special meeting.

Eight studio apartments have been developed above the SoundWaves building at 7 Lagoon Road, across the street from Coligny Plaza.

The Richardson Group, which owns Coligny Plaza, has designed eight studio apartments across from Coligny Plaza at 7 Lagoon Road. SoundWaves, home of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, is on the lower level of the 12,000-square-foot building that many residents will remember as the old Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office building.

The upstairs of the mixed-unit building has been converted into 390- to 420-square-foot apartments that rent for between $900 and $1,000. Included amenities are utilities, trash removal, cable and internet service and a communal laundry room on the same floor. The units have 10- to 12-foot ceilings and walk-in showers.

The project had been in the works for more than a year and the tenants moved in in February. By no great surprise, no advertising was necessary.

“The tenants’ overall reaction was excitement that their expectations were met and were superseded by the final product that was developed,” said Lee Lucier, chief operating officer for the Richardson Group.

The management group also is working on a 20-bedroom project at 1 Park Lane on U.S. 278. The building was originally an office building that has been vacant for many years. The apartments will be rented to a local company that needed housing for employees.

The mixed-use property at 800 Main Street features an intern suite above office buildings.

“Mr. Richardson is proud to be a part of the process in space that was used for offices and is being reclaimed for such an important present-day need for the community,” Lucier said.

Richardson’s third mixed-unit project will be four apartments (two bedrooms and two bathrooms each) above Roller’s Wine & Spirit building at Coligny Plaza. The housing is in the planning and design stages and targeted to be completed within the year.

“We don’t need more empty office space on the Island,” Lucier said. So if it’s financially viable, we’d like to see other companies or developers follow suit to the projects we are doing and that we’ve completed.”

Beaufort has made a dent in addressing affordable housing when the city transferred a vacant lot to the Beaufort Housing Authority at 410 Ribaut Road. Plans are to build eight 800-square-foot, one-bedroom apartments that will rent for about $850. The project is in the engineering stage with a target date of building to start within six months.

“This is a viable community project because the city realizes it needs affordable housing to keep young professionals in Beaufort,” said Angela Childers, executive director of the Beaufort Housing Authority. “Once we are started with this, who knows where we can go next.” LL

Myth vs. Reality

What do we know about the impacts of workforce housing?

Myth #1: Workforce housing will bring down my property value.

Reality: Research has shown that workforce housing has no negative impacts on homeowners’ property values.

Myth #2: Workforce housing will be a fiscal drain to Hilton Head Island.

Reality: Workforce housing tends to have the same fiscal impact as does market-rate housing.

Myth #3: Workforce housing looks cheap.

Reality: Workforce housing is commonly designed to be consistent with existing neighborhoods, often indistinguishable from market-rate housing.

LOCAL Life’s Intern Suite