A Bluffton affordable-housing complex is in the process of being upgraded into a luxury apartment development even as low-income residents continue to reside there.
Massachusetts-based company Aspen Square began converting vacant units in the Bluffton House affordable-housing complex into two- and three-bedroom luxury apartments in August, the complex's assistant manager Gwendolyn Marrero said Tuesday.
The first new residents to the complex, rebranded as "Avalon Shores," began moving in Aug. 21, Marrero said. The vacant apartments -- once home to low-income families who paid discounted monthly rents -- were completely remodeled, leasing and marketing manager Kaylee Gardner said.
New appliances adorn each kitchen, and the walls in each apartment were painted with fresh blues and greens, a stark contrast from the white paint in the affordable housing units.
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The exterior walls of the complex's buildings have yet to be renovated, but will be as the project moves forward, Marrero said. Many of the walls still bear graffiti from the complex's former residents.
Aspen Square, which purchased the apartment complex in 2013, began upfitting the low-income apartments after the development's 15-year tax credit for affordable housing expired this year, Gardner said.
The two-bedroom units cost between $1,100 and $1,140 per month and the three-bedroom units between $1,300 and $1,340, with the difference based on the appliances offered in the unit, Gardner said.
Eventually, a new pool, fitness center and dog park will be offered as amenities to new residents, Gardner said.
Marrero said renovations are starting as soon as an apartment is vacated. Current low-income residents can continue living in the complex through the end of their lease, but they would be subject to a rent increase if they renewed it, Gardner said.
Current residents wouldn't pay the full price for the renovated units, but would pay up to a "threshold" just over $1,000, Gardner said.
Since plans to convert the complex into luxury housing were announced, many residents have not renewed their leases and left Bluffton House to seek new living arrangements. An exact count wasn't available, Gardner said, because some of those residents had vacated the apartment before their lease ended, fearing a possible rent hike.
Hilton Head Island-based nonprofit Neighborhood Outreach Connection, which operates an afterschool program out of an apartment in Bluffton House, has not left the complex, chairman Dr. Narendra Sharma said Tuesday.
Sharma said the organization had no plans to leave the complex yet since the afterschool program still has a full, 45-student group and a waiting list for other children in the development.
In 2013, Aspen Square and NOC were locked in a dispute over the two subsidized apartments the organization used for its afterschool program.
Late that year, NOC was forced to downsize to a single apartment and pay $1,000 rent each month. The program's size was nearly halved, from 80 students to 45, Sharma said.
Even with departures from the community, demand for the program is still high; nearly 200 students live in Bluffton House, Sharma said. Moving the program now could erase the significant strides NOC has made cause the students in Bluffton House to backslide, he said.
With a shortage of affordable housing elsewhere in Beaufort County, Sharma said he didn't expect the majority of residents to move from the complex quickly. Although cheaper rents may be found in Hardeeville or Ridgeland, the complex's location makes for a shorter commute to the jobs many of the residents have in Bluffton and Hilton Head, he said.
"We will stay as long as there is demand," he said. "We have a role to play there and the families will find ways to pay the rent. The company can't kick them out, and the families will find smart ways to survive."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.