By Barney Blakeney
Charleston is considered one of the nation’s fastest gentrifying cities. Charleston City Council last week approved a measure that may enhance that distinction. City officials last week approved plans for a $12 million bond to improve infrastructure on the peninsula’s eastside where gentrification continues to displace Black residents.
Revenue from the Cooper River Bridge Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District that runs from Cooper Street north to Romney Street will be used to underwrite the bond that’s going to fund road and drainage infrastructure, said Dist. 4 Councilman Robert Mitchell. New development at the center of the district along the Meeting Street/Huger Street/Morrison Drive corridor will be enhanced, but residents of the predominantly Black East Central Neighborhood where gentrification is transforming the community will continue to be displaced, said East Central Neighborhood council President Elizabeth Jenkins.
Residents of East Central who have lived in the area for generations likely will see few benefits from coming improvements, Jenkins speculated. TIF district revenues only come after decades, usually 10-20 years. By then the racial and economic demographics of East Central will be completely different, she said. Future residents and businesses which move into the area as a result of gentrification will prosper, but its current residents will have been displaced.
Current Eastside and East Central residents historically have been underserved and got nothing except displacement from the Ravenel Bridge construction, Jenkins said. And city officials’ promises to reknit neighborhoods with infill housing on the footprint of the old bridges landfall at Lee and Meeting streets don’t represent benefits to them either, she said.
Low income Blacks who have been the pillars of the city’s tourism and hospitality infrastructure likely will not be able to live in planned ‘workforce’ housing being developed in the area, Jenkins said. Investors hoping to create more affluent housing already are infiltrating East Central, she said.
Mitchell said private sector residential housing currently under construction along the Meeting Street corridor near Jackson Street on the Eastside will be complimented by more low income affordable housing. Construction of the Grace Apartments units slated to begin early next year where the former bridges were demolished is proposed to reknit east side peninsula communities adversely affected by the bridge construction and to provide much needed low income affordable housing.
The Housing Authority of Charleston 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.
Jenkins isn’t impressed. The bottom line, she said, is that the Eastside and East Central communities of the future will be predominantly white and “loose terms” like affordable housing don’t promise racial and economic diversity.