It's been about 10 months since the city of Beaufort and town of Port Royal agreed to invest a combined $135,000 each year to help provide affordable housing, and officials say residents should benefit from the decision soon.
The municipalities are splitting the cost of a revolving loan fund through the Charleston-based Lowcountry Housing Trust -- about $405,000 over the three-year commitment preferred by the trust.
Of that annual commitment, about $35,000 will cover the program's administrative costs.
The group uses the money and grants to provide loans, which currently can be difficult to get through traditional banks, to governments and nonprofit and for-profit developers to build or renovate housing. Those earning as much as 120 percent of Beaufort County's median income can apply for assistance, which ranges from $57,960 for an individual to $82,680 for a family of four.
The program has been slow to start but "all of these things take time to generate momentum," according to Beaufort Redevelopment Commission housing committee chairman Mike McNally.
The first assistance in Beaufort went to Lowcountry Produce, Beaufort program manager Shirley Wilkins said. It was eligible for money supporting grocery stores in "food deserts," or low-income areas without a grocery store within a mile.
She hopes the next target will be the Lafayette Street housing project. The city is in contract negotiations to build affordable homes on about an acre of city-owned land. The trust could lend money to the developer, Wilkins said. Redevelopment Commission Chairman John Verity said the preliminary proposal is to build about six homes.
"It's not going to be a big splash where one day you're going to see a 10-unit complex, a 70-unit complex, because that's not what we need right now, we need to rebuild," Wilkins said of the trust's community contribution.
The trust is also working with Port Royal and Beaufort to identify vacant lots for housing.
The trust's success will depend on making the community aware not only of potential loans -- up to $500,000 -- but also financing options and grants for buying and rehabilitating homes, Wilkins said.
"Getting them to know the nuts and bolts of using that money is key," she said.
The trust has scheduled its first community education meeting for Aug. 15, and Wilkins said she can't reply fast enough to keep up with the response from local builders, bankers and first-time home buyers.
She hopes a partnership with Savannah-based Consumer Credit Agency will be in place by then, which would help potential home buyers with credit problems.