Beaufort News

Beaufort, Port Royal affordable housing venture advances

The city of Beaufort and town of Port Royal are two votes away from a partnership with a nonprofit group that promises to help create affordable housing.

It would cost $405,000 of taxpayer money over three years, Lowcountry Housing Trust's preferred commitment from municipal partners.

The Charleston-based group provides loans to governments and nonprofit and for-profit developers to build or renovate housing. It targets projects that would benefit people earning as much as 120 percent of Beaufort County's median income, which ranges from $57,960 for an individual to $82,680 for a family of four. That covers most working-class residents, Lowcountry Housing Trust executive director Michelle Mapp said.

"Often when you think of affordable housing, there's a negative stigma to it, and they think of housing projects, but that's not what this is," Mapp said.

Beaufort and Port Royal would evenly split the $135,000 annual cost. Of that, $35,000 would go to administration, including a designated local trust employee, and $100,000 would go to a revolving trust fund, said Jon Verity, chairman of the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission.

The trust fund would be used to match grants and get financing for housing projects from state and federal agencies and private lenders. The goal is to leverage $300,000 in startup money into $1.2 million in available funds, Mapp said. Based on the Lowcountry Housing Trust's track record, it could grow to about $3 million, Mapp said.

Most of the trust's loans are for the $250,000 limit and are for initial financing for startup costs, such as planning and infrastructure, Mapp said. The savings from lower startup costs for developers helps keep rents and housing prices in the developments lower, Mapp said.

"Often, our money is the first money in, the risky money in the deal," she said.

Of 94 loans the trust has handled thus far, only one is delinquent, she said.

Lowcountry Housing Trust and Redevelopment Commission officials met Friday with representatives from three local banks -- Palmetto State Bank, South Carolina Bank and Trust and Lowcountry National Bank -- to gauge interest in participating, Verity said. Ameris Bank has shown interest in the venture but couldn't attend the meeting.

The trust and commission members plan to meet in October with developers and organizations, Verity said. Initial projects could involve developing vacant or unused municipal property, he said.

"I don't think we've ever tried anything like this," Verity said. "We haven't had access to someone with this expertise and funding before."

To pay for the venture, Port Royal will use money from a housing fund, and Beaufort will use its general fund, city and town officials said.

The partnership is a new approach in an ongoing effort to create housing options for local workers, Beaufort city manager Scott Dadson said.

Mapp was optimistic the first project could be under way within a year.

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