Beaufort News

Beaufort considers regional housing trust fund

Beaufort officials are considering a partnership with a nonprofit housing finance agency that says it can help the city meet its goal of affordable housing for the local workforce.

City Council and Redevelopment Commission members began discussions with the Charleston-based Lowcountry Housing Trust this year.

The regional group founded in 2004 provides loans to nonprofit and for-profit developers and governments to build affordable homes to be rented or owned. That includes new construction, rehabilitating vacant units and converting commercial buildings to residential use, according to the trust's website.

With partners in Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley and Georgetown counties, the trust requires a $130,000 investment to start work in a new territory and prefers that partners agree to stay with the program -- contributing at that same level or more -- for at least three years, trust executive director Michelle Mapp recently told Beaufort council members.

Beaufort could enter the deal alone or work with Beaufort County or other municipalities to share the cost, Mapp said.

Of the total cost, $30,000 would be used for administrative fees. The remaining $100,000 would go into a revolving loan fund and be used to help qualify for federal and state grants along with private-sector programs that cater to community projects, she said.

The trust will lend up to $250,000 per project.

"We never finance the whole deal, usually just a piece of the deal," Mapp said. "We can be flexible with the terms of the financing."

Projects have to meet affordability requirements to be eligible, and loans require a 20-year deed restriction to keep a property affordable for at least that long, Mapp said.

Based on its success with other partners, the trust guarantees that for every $1 its participants contribute, at least $4 will be spent in the community, Mapp said.

The partnership "seems to make pretty good sense" assuming the city has developers ready to tackle such projects, Mayor Billy Keyserling said."Is this something we should do? I don't know," Keyserling said. "We're waiting on a recommendation from the Redevelopment Commission, and then we'll have to look at our budget and see if it's even doable."

Commission members believe a partnership could benefit the area, said its chairman, Jon Verity.

"They can provide a service that we don't need to re-create," Verity said. "I think the question is, how much money do we want to invest? ... We'd like to find some additional partners."

Beaufort City Council and Port Royal Town Council members recently held a joint meeting and heard a presentation from the trust.

Port Royal is interested in the program, town manager Van Willis said.

The town could use a revolving housing fund established with federal grants in the 1990s, Willis said, who added the fund has about $100,000, which can only be used for housing projects.