Bluffton right to consider affordable housing plan

New program will help residents get out of old mobile homes and also eliminate blight in Bluffton.

newsroom@islandpacket.comMay 16, 2014 

The prevalence of multi-million dollars homes in our area makes it easy to overlook neighbors in places like Bluffton who can only afford to live in sagging mobile homes. These folks, many of whom do important work in our community including waiting tables in restaurants and tending to landscaping in gated communities, would benefit from more affordable housing options and financial assistance.

And it certainly would help Bluffton's aesthetic appeal and its ability to attract visitors if it could cut the number of ugly mobile homes that dot its corridors.

That's why we're encouraged that Bluffton Town Council will consider a plan next month to offer residents stuck in mobile homes the opportunity to buy a design for a modular home. Residents who earn no more than 120 percent of the area's annual median income would be eligible for financial assistance to help pay for the construction of their new homes. The money would come from grants the town would seek out.

Buyers would have to pay at least 60 percent of the construction costs and demolish their old mobile home once their modular homes were completed. The town is also exploring other ways to help, including waiving certain fees and expediting permits.

Target areas for the new houses include Old Town and along Buck Island, Goethe and Simmonsville roads. An informal survey found 59 mobile homes in Old Town that could be candidates for replacement.

We urge the council to proceed with the plan -- but with caution. Town leaders got in over their heads with the Wharf Street Redevelopment Project, a $1.2 million plan that relied primarily on federal and state funding to transform a plot of shoddy structures into an attractive neighborhood of six homes. It took longer than expected to find suitable buyers for the homes, and the houses did not sell for as much as the town had originally hoped.

Eventually, the town recouped its $338,000 investment in the development. But the hundreds of hours town staffers spent on the project will never be known.

The new affordable housing plan seems more manageable. First, the town will not purchase any property or build homes. Instead, it will simply sell home designs to interested parties. A variety of designs would be offered ranging from a one-bedroom, 600 square foot home to a four-bedroom, 2,000 square foot home.

Also, the town now has the expertise to more efficiently locate and vet potential participants in the program. And the fact that the economy is improving should offer a boost as well. Overall, the new program should be less expensive and require less work by the town.

There are several aspects that still need to be worked out. For example, who would pay for moving the mobile homes? And what safeguards can be put in place to ensure the homes remain affordable? Town leaders must ensure that the homes are not flipped for big profits.

Such details can be worked out. Then, town leaders and Bluffton residents can feel good knowing they've helped their neighbors achieve the dream of homeownership. And the fact that it won't require a tax increase or any other sizable chunk of public dollars will be all the more reason to celebrate.

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