Avoid unnecessary risks with housing project

Bluffton officials have worked too hard on the town's six-home affordable housing project to put it at risk by taking short-cuts on qualifying buyers.

Certainly, there is pressure to get people into the homes, which have sat empty for months now. But the town bought into a very complicated and time-consuming process when it accepted more than $800,000 in federal funding for the $1.2 million project.

At a town Affordable Housing Committee meeting this week, Mayor Lisa Sulka said the town should do whatever is necessary to speed up the process from application to closing.

"Today we have an applicant, but we can't make it official until we have a lottery," Sulka said. "And in another two or three weeks (of waiting for the lottery), we might lose them. Why aren't we just going on and putting them in a house?

Town staff members pointed out that they must follow very specific rules and hold a lottery even if it involved just one person. That "lottery" was held Wednesday.

Wednesday's applicant joins two others from a lottery held in August. The town expects to close with the first two in the next 45 to 60 days. A third applicant from the August lottery dropped out without giving a reason.

Prospective buyers' applications can't be submitted for final approval to the S.C. Housing Finance and Development Authority, which also helped fund the project, until after they have selected a home. They also must get letters of mortgage pre-approval from lenders.

Given the complexity of the process, it's not surprising to see applicants drop away. The town originally had 58 applicants, but most withdrew from the mandatory approval process, which also included background checks, credit checks and a first-time homebuyer course. About a half-dozen applicants are in the running for the remaining three houses.

We urge town officials to continue to proceed carefully.