Local housing industry leaders prepare for Columbia rally

gmartin@islandpacket.comJanuary 9, 2012 

Hundreds of people in South Carolina's homebuilding industry, including many from Beaufort County, will convene Thursday in Columbia to protest regulations they say hamper their recovery from the economic recession.

The "Rally for Homeownership," scheduled for 1 p.m. on the steps of the Statehouse, is the first of several similar rallies planned nationwide that organizers hope will draw attention during the presidential race to homebuilders' plight.

Gov. Nikki Haley won't attend but is expected to record a video message that will be played during the event, according to Mark Nix, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of South Carolina, which is helping organize the rally.

"I hope to use this rally to show people just how depressed the home building industry is," said Allen Patterson of Beaufort, president of the Home Builders Association of the Lowcountry. "It used to be a major employer in this area."

Patterson said banking regulations and requirements have made it difficult for aspiring homeowners to get approval for loans, exacerbating an industry still reeling from the effects of the recession.

Further hampering developments are the additional county fees and plan reviews for things such as storm drainage. Developers will spend thousands of dollars and projects are delayed while waiting for officials to approve plans.

The Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association has chartered a bus to take people to Columbia that morning, according to Ashley Feaster, the group's executive officer, .

"Everyone's having the hardest time of their lives trying to get their homes financed right now," she said. "And not just low-income people, but the affluent, too."

Feaster said the number of rally participants could exceed 1,000.

Among them will be Hilton Head Island resident Mark Ellis, who said he hopes to send a message to lawmakers that his industry is important to the local and national economy.

"I want to talk to them about the ways the government has been restricting us," he said. "We're concerned about the future of the nation if we're not looked at as part of the recovery."

According to Ellis, about 86,000 in the housing and building sectors in South Carolina were laid off in 2011, emblematic of an industry that has been in steady decline in recent years.

He said only 13,000 new, single-family homes were constructed in Beaufort County in 2011, down from 43,000 in 2005.

"With the primary coming up, there are going to be lots of presidential candidates in this state," he said.

"I want to tell them there won't be a recovery from this recession without the housing industry playing a big part of it."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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