Bluffton considers new plan to offer homes, assistance to residents

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comMay 6, 2014 

An affordable-housing plan proposed Tuesday could help Bluffton residents move from old mobile homes into new modular ones.

The town's Affordable Housing Committee will begin reviewing a proposal to offer residents and developers designs for 24 modular homes, which are prefabricated and typically assembled in sections. Residents could also use financial assistance the town would seek through grants to help pay for the construction of the homes.

Some of the designs are similar to homes in the town's Wharf Street Redevelopment Project. That project was initially plagued by organizational problems, but eventually resulted in construction of six houses in Old Town that were all sold.

Unlike the Wharf Street homes, which the town built before it had buyers, the town would offer design plans for the modular houses directly to interested residents or developers, who could purchase the plans and build the home.

Four of the five designs used in the Wharf Street project would be available, along with 20 other designs picked from a pool of more than 100, town assistant director of growth management Shawn Leininger said. They would range from a one-bedroom, 600 square foot home to a four-bedroom, 2,000 square foot home.

Several of the designs were created by Allison Ramsey Architects of Beaufort. The homes would be assembled by Nationwide Homes in a factory, and either shipped intact or assembled in sections on site by the company, Leininger said.

As examples, Leininger said, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom "Honeysuckle" design, at 1,520 square feet, would cost a homebuyer $84,000. The "Essex," a slightly smaller model at 1,328 square feet with the same number of bathrooms and bedrooms, would cost $57,000.

"They're beautiful homes, and the price point is attractive," said Fred Hamilton, Town Council member and chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee. "They look like they can be mimicked throughout the community."

The price estimates do not include the costs to construct foundations and other site preparations, Leininger said. Sewer connections to the new homes also would be added to the costs, he said.

Leininger said target areas for the new homes would be in Old Town and along Buck Island, Goethe and Simmonsville roads. In Old Town alone, an informal survey found 59 homes that could be candidates for replacement.

Under the proposal, residents applying through the Affordable Housing Initiative could make no more than 120 percent of the area's annual median income. Using 2013 numbers, a family of four would have to make $80,400 or less to qualify. Median income statistics for 2014 have not yet been released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to Leininger.

Buyers would have to pay at least 60 percent of the costs and demolish their old mobile home once the modular home was completed. Leininger said that percentage could change in the final proposal.

The remaining costs would be covered through grants similar to the ones that helped with the Wharf Street redevelopment. Other possible homebuyer incentives floated Tuesday included waiving certain fees and expediting permits, Leininger said.

However, some issues still need to be resolved, among them how land ownership and heirs' property rights would affect purchasing a home. Relocation of mobile homes and the cost of moving them during construction also need to be addressed, Leininger said.

Leininger said the town could also pair with developers to build homes on vacant land in town, but committee member Sheri Bush said homebuyers would need some protection.

"My concern is to keep it affordable," she said. "I don't want the developers to take advantage and flip a $60,000 house for $120,000."

If the proposal is approved by the Affordable Housing Committee, it would have to be approved by Town Council, which could take up the plan in June. Councilwoman and committee member Karen Lavery predicted it would have the council's "full support."

Lavery opposed the $1.2 million Wharf Street project because the town purchased and developed the land. She said this project would likely be cheaper and the town would play a lesser role.

Residents Amiri Harris and Lee Fields said the six Wharf Street project neighbors have formed a tight community and believe that could happen in other areas where the town builds affordable housing.

"We all get along and know each other," Fields said. "No one asked us to; it just sort of organically happened."

Farris said neighbors have experienced no major problems with the homes. He and Fields continued to grow a garden the town had planted around the home's porch, adding herbs to the plants already there.

"I'm genuinely happy for the opportunity to own a home," Fields said. "The town has come up with a great solution."

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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