By Barney Blakeney
Last week Charleston Housing Authority officials broke ground for the construction of 62 units of affordable housing at the site of the former Cooper River bridge’s landfall at Meeting and Lee streets. The groundbreaking comes more than a decade after S.C. Department of Transportation gave the land to the City of Charleston to mitigate the new bridge’s impact on the surrounding community. But for peninsula Eastside residents displaced by the construction and impacted by subsequent gentrification, that horse has long since left the barn and likely will not return.
Eastside Community Development Corporation President Latonya Gamble said the initiative will provide some housing opportunities for residents, but it’s essentially too little too late for hundreds of families which previously called the Eastside home. For most predominantly Black Charleston peninsula communities, redevelopment meant displacement. The decade-long promise of affordable housing now coming to fruition at the site rings hollow. The methodical dispossession and displacement of Black residents over the past three decades won’t be offset by the construction slated to take place at what city and housing authority officials call Grace Homes.
A total of 62 units will be constructed to include · 25 one-bedroom rental units for elderly households or individuals earning between 30 to 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) – about $14,000-$23,000 annually · five two-bedroom rental units for households or individuals earning 30 to 50 percent of the AMI · four three-bedroom rental units for households or individuals earning 30 to 50 percent of the AMI · 22 two-bedroom (workforce) rental units for households or individuals earning up to 150 percent of the AMI. In addition to the rental units, there will be six three-bedroom homeownership unites for households earning up to 120 percent of the AMI – about $71,000 annually.
Construction is expected to be completed in about two years. In addition to the 62 units immediately planned for what will be called the Grace Homes, another 238 housing units eventually are planned to be constructed. Approximately 140 of those units will be available to low and moderate income residents, a city official said.
Gamble expressed concern specific population demographics such as seniors may be targeted. Everyone needs equal access to the opportunity, she said. And the use of median incomes – $66,000/year for a family of four – to determine eligibility is problematic, she said. Housing costs in the city has exploded and there was no plan for it, Gamble said. Absent a definitive fix, what’s on the table now won’t scratch the surface of the need, she said.
For those Black residents who want to access the limited opportunity, Gamble suggests preparation. The key to the ability to participate will be income. Those who want to continue living downtown will have to increase their incomes, she said.
“It’s no longer going to be cheap to live on the Eastside. Some rental properties on Amherst Street are as much as $2,500 a month! Things are changing. That means people will have to change – sharpen their skills, get their GEDs and upgrade their employable skills to increase their incomes,” Gamble said.