Liz Farrell

Where should Beaufort Co. store its ‘poor’ people? Not here, obviously | Opinion

When I was in elementary school in the mid-1980s, I offered a very viable solution to end homelessness — the Everyone in America Should Pitch In a Dollar to Buy People Who Need Homes a House Plan — so I’m not entirely sure why we’re still talking about a “housing crisis.”

But here we are.

The problem in Beaufort County, of course, isn’t “homelessness” per se; it’s that working here and living here are often mutually exclusive concepts given the stagnant wages, mostly part-time gigs, high rents and lack of lower-priced homes in the area.

For the past few years, our politicians, developers, bureaucrats and Guardians of the Back Yard have been having frequent and downright earnest discussions about how to fix this — to the point that “affordable housing” is almost becoming another trendy issue to care about in a meaningless way, like wearing a Lance Armstrong bracelet or hash-tagging sorrow after a mass shooting.

Unfortunately, the local housing crisis has only one clear solution, and it’s the same one that would also solve the nation’s affordable health care problem, which is “always be rich.”

Short of that, and short of a radical change in policy with a unified approach that swaps profit for social investment — lol — the solutions will have to come incrementally.

And, because of that, they will look like this:

They will be imperfect and not totally satisfactory. They will be occasionally ham-fisted and most assuredly short-sighted. They will inevitably benefit some of the wrong players along the way. They will create other problems and seem not terribly fair.

And they will absolutely bring out the worst in those among us who regard “the workforce” as “the other,” in whatever way they’re defining that other and with whatever crayons they’re using to draw that other in their heads.

But still, even with all those lowered expectations, we should keep the bar high in the anti-absurdity category.

When it comes to the Village Park Homes plan to build a neighborhood with affordable housing in southwest Bluffton, there are logical points of concern because the developer is proposing an additional 206 dwellings in a soon-to-be-packed area that already feels disregarded by a five-member, non-representative Town Council that focuses heavily on Old Town Bluffton issues.

It’s also 206 more homes in an area that already has overcrowded schools, herky-jerky traffic patterns and alarming expanses of concrete and that doesn’t yet have all the close-to-home, quality-of-life infrastructure that modern Americans want, such as a grocery store or somewhere other than Wendy’s to eat.

That said, I completely understand why residents in The Haven and Alston Park, developments that would be most affected by this influx, are objecting to the plan and speaking out.

Speak out more.

Even when your argument is bad — ie., the one about southwest Bluffton, the most centrally located spot in the greater Savannah area, being “too far” for employees to live from their workplaces — your vigilance will encourage accountability and mitigate any sleights of hand.

Such as that old magic trick “Altruism.”

It is absolutely insulting to call $170K to $310K homes “affordable housing” when the average home in southwest Bluffton is already in that price range. (Unless they’re factoring in Palmetto Bluff, in which case that is as slimy as a Porsche dealer calling himself “Crazy Larry the Budget Sports Car Guy” just because his lot is across from Ferrari).

In other words, Village Park Homes’ target market is still their target market.

It’s the same deal, just with more heroic branding and some municipal discounts.

And the town should absolutely acknowledge this in its negotiations with them.

This isn’t to downplay a developer’s fair expectation of profit or the high expense associated with building homes these days.

Village Park Homes, a Lowcountry-based company, was recently acquired by Dream Finders Homes, a Jacksonville, Fla., developer that touts itself as the 36th largest home-builder in the nation. It’s never going to reach that No. 35 slot without some smart venturing.

But a more accurate description of what they’re offering to Bluffton would be “affordable housing for white-collar working couples who will move before their kids start driving because there’s nowhere to put those extra cars.”

Which is fine. We need that, too.

It just doesn’t help the sector of the workforce that restaurants and other small businesses say they badly need — because that sector is cobbling together part-time jobs to make a full-time salary.

Generally speaking, those workers not only can’t afford a $170K house, which comes with HOA fees, higher utility bills and maintenance expenses, they might not be able to commit themselves to the geographic immobility that comes with a 30-year mortgage (assuming they can get one in the first place).

What they need is lower rents.

And neighbors who actually want to live next to them.

“Everyone says they need it, but ‘not here,’” Bluffton Town Councilman Fred Hamilton, a member of the town’s Affordable Housing Committee, said. “They all agree that affordable housing is needed, but ‘not here.’”

Where exactly do these Guardians of the Back Yard think those needing affordable housing should live?

No idea.

In hot air balloons that we pull down when it’s time for them to work? On a submarine that surfaces in Harbour Town twice a day? In mobile units that clean the streets at night?

If the idea of $170K-$310K affordable housing has neighbors choking on their Frostys, then God help the workforce.

Columnist and senior editor Liz Farrell graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in political science and writes about a wide range of topics, including Bravo’s “Southern Charm.” She has lived in the Lowcountry for 15 years, but still feels like a fraud when she accidentally says “y’all.”
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