The fact that Bluffton needs more affordable homes is not in dispute, town officials say.
The problems are finding a place to build them and how to get neighbors to support the projects.
High land prices and “not in my backyard” attitudes continue to stifle attempts to attract developers and make it easier for low- and moderate-income families to live in Bluffton.
Bluffton Town Council has approved a package of incentives allowing developers to squeeze more houses onto smaller lots if a certain percentage of them are priced below market value.
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The town also has developed the Bluffton Home Series, a program that provides homeowners with free designs — and potentially financial assistance — to replace dilapidated mobile homes with new modular ones.
The town also has made several attempts to reach out to developers in hopes of creating a partnership to build affordable homes.
So far, no such partnership has materialized.
In terms of being proactive, Bluffton “is doing so many things (that other local municipalities) aren’t doing,” Deborah Johnson of the Lowcountry Affordable Housing Coalition said last week.
But no one is taking advantage of any of those initiatives.
“Hopefully we can improve upon (affordable housing programs) to the point that eventually someone will take us up on it,” Bluffton Town Councilman Dan Wood said.
The availability of land is the biggest issue.
Bluffton Affordable Housing Committee member Sherri Bush
“The availability of land is the biggest issue,” Bluffton Affordable Housing Committee member Sherri Bush said.
Wood agreed, saying finding property to build homes is a challenge because “land is so expensive.”
There are funds available for the town to buy property, but “there are many different needs to purchase land — building parks, establishing parking (areas),” he said.
The town recently used $1 million to buy a roughly 1.5-acre property on Boundary Street to add public parking spots and green space in Old Town.
Lowcountry Council of Governments affordable housing manager Barbara Johnson said her organization “can sit down (with town leaders) and get a plan together” for seeking additional money to be used for land acquisition.
“Maybe these are issues that the state and federal government can help us address” through grants and similar funding mechanisms, she said.
The town has had success buying land and building affordable housing using grants in the past.
The Wharf Street project, a $1.2 million initiative funded mainly through the 2010 federal stimulus, saw the construction of six new homes in 2012.
Bluffton Town Councilman Fred Hamilton called the project a “stepping stone ... that has worked well.”
The ‘NIMBY’ element was strong — it was palpable.
Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity president Pat Wirth
“Another barrier that I see is one you see everywhere: ‘Not in my backyard,’ ” Hamilton said.
Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity president Pat Wirth said “the NIMBY issue” — the concerns of some neighbors who push back against the construction of affordable housing near their homes — is something her group faced after the Town of Hilton Head donated 14 acres of undeveloped land.
“The ‘NIMBY’ element was strong — it was palpable” — when the nonprofit organization announced plans to build 35 homes off Marshland Road, she said.
She recalled a conversation during which one of the Habitat clients stood in front of a group of concerned islanders and said, “My neighbors and I are not riff-raff.”
Talk like that resonated with concerned residents and helped “change the attitude,” she said, because “the people who were opposed didn’t really have an understanding of what they were opposed to.”
Wirth said Habitat, which pays for its operation with private donations rather than public grants, “has worked with Bluffton before and we would love to do it again.”