Bluffton's affordable housing project gains momentum, critics

A $1 million project to bring six modular cottages to old town is gaining momentum, but its critics say members of Bluffton's Affordable Housing Subcommittee are not listening to their concerns.

At the subcommittee's meeting Tuesday, assistant town manager for growth management Marc Orlando said Bluffton is close to completing three contracts that would allow the project to be built on the corner of Wharf and Robertson streets.

To be eligible to purchase one of the homes, applicants must make no more than 80 percent of the county's average median income, which ranges from $30,750 to $49,200, depending on family size.

Don Blair, a town Planning Commission member and retired architect and community planner, questioned why the town didn't create a program to purchase cheap foreclosed homes, which he said would have accomplished its affordable-housing goals faster, more efficiently and on a larger scale.

In an interview, Blair said he doubted the town truly wants to address the need for affordable housing and that the project is "political posturing."

Old town resident and former town Republican Club president Bill Roe said the cost and time associated with the project isn't worth it to help just six families.

At the meeting, he called the project "a major mistake" that doesn't have the support of the community.

Committee chairman and town councilman Fred Hamilton, who campaigned on providing affordable housing, said Roe and Blair "aren't going to change their minds" despite the subcommittee's efforts to defend the project.

Hamilton has said home ownership for low- to moderate-income families priced out of the Bluffton housing market will help them obtain the "American dream." He said the majority of comments he has heard about the project are positive.

The project will be funded mostly by grants from the federal government and the Lowcountry Council of Governments, with the town contributing about $11,600. Those funds aren't expected to cover the total cost of the project, however. To avoid ending up in the red with the project, the town will have to clear $202,800 from selling the six homes.

Orlando said the price of the homes has not yet been determined.

The town has nearly sealed a deal with a consulting firm that would screen applicants and select homeowners. The firm would also create a home-buyer counseling program and help the potential owners find home loans.

The town has selected Beaufort Construction to build the modular cottages and is wrapping up its choices for the homes' styles, which must fit in with old-town design standards.

Proposals for landscaping also are being considered.

Orlando would not reveal estimated costs of any of the contracts, which he said have not been signed. The contracts would also have to win approval from local and state housing authorities.