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Housing Units For Cooper River Bridge Site Approved, But May Not Be Enough
9/28/2016 4:03:40 PM

Kwadjo Campbell

James Lewis
By Barney Blakeney

Charleston Housing Authority Board of Commissioners at its Sept. 25 meeting approved the construction of 60 multi-family housing units in the first phase of construction at the former Cooper River Bridge site.

Construction of the units that likely will begin early next year comes about a decade after the former bridges were demolished and the site of its Charleston landfall were donated to the city as part of a mitigation agreement.

The city proposed to use the land to reknit east side peninsula communities adversely affected by the bridge construction and to provide much needed low income affordable housing.

President & CEO of the Charleston Housing Authority Donald Cameron said the housing authority will build 60 units to include 35 one, two and three bedroom units affordable to very low income housing families earning as little as 30 percent of the area median income ($66,000/year for a family of four), 20 2-bedroom units designated as workforce housing and five units that will be sold to first time homebuyers.

A second phase of construction that will begin later will include 60-80 additional housing units, Cameron said.

The decade-long wait for housing development to occur at the site is welcomed, but doesn’t come without scrutiny.

City officials have been criticized for dragging out the process as gentrification displaced much of the city’s low income black residents. Development at the site was considered one of the few options to maintain racial and economic diversity on the peninsula.

Charleston City Councilman James Lewis has been the council’s voice for affordable housing. He said the length of time it’s taken to move forward with development of the property led many to believe nothing ever would happen with regards to low income affordable housing, especially as high-end residential development occurred among surrounding properties. And while 60 units of low income affordable housing barely impacts the challenge to provide low income affordable housing, it’s a start, he said.

The city has a few more irons in the fire, Lewis said. Donated properties in West Ashley and in the soon to be developed Charleston Neck Area will add more low income affordable housing, but the need is far greater. Dist. 4 Councilman Robert Mitchell, who represents the area where the units will be built, said the Cooper River Bridge site development will address that need to some extent.

But former Charleston Councilman Kwadjo Campbell, who represented the district when the agreement was reached, said the city continues to violate the mitigation’s intent. Low income communities adversely impacted by the construction of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge never have been fairly compensated. And were it not for federal mandates that require some mitigation, further displacement would be the only compensation those communities receive, he said.

“The City of Charleston continues to be a bastion of congenial racism where black communities are exploited without consequences. Local government talks a good talk, but does nothing for black communities while black elected officials say there’s nothing they can do. The black community has not been compensated. We should be asking where is the economic benefit to the black community,” Campbell said.

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