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Amid Broken Promises, Lewis Stands Alone on Affordable Housing
3/5/2014 3:02:52 PM

Charleston City Councilman James Lewis
By Barney Blakeney

Charleston City Councilman James Lewis frequently finds himself standing alone. That didn’t change at council’s Jan. 30 meeting as Lewis fought to get his colleagues and Mayor Joseph Riley to hold fast to a commitment to low income affordable housing.

At the meeting council approved the sale of the old SCE&G bus barn at 628 Meeting St. to the American College of the Building Arts for $10. The property had been transferred to the city as part of mitigation for the Arthur Ravenel Bridge construction.

The S.C. Dept. of Transportation acquired the property along with other parcels of land which it transferred to the city as well, including land on Meeting Street between Lee and Cooper streets. Stipulations mandated the properties be used to mitigate low income communities adversely impacted by the bridge construction.

Lewis challenged the deal with the building arts school now located at the old city jail on Magazine Street. He said the city already has given the school land and now would give it land promised to low income residents displaced by the bridge construction. That land, he said, should be used to construct low income affordable housing. He noted that such promises to use land at Meeting and Lee streets have gone unfulfilled.

A lot of promises were made, but nothing has been done, Lewis told council. The trolley barn and Lee Street sites are the only properties acquired through the mitigation agreement available to develop low income affordable housing, Lewis said.

“Every time there’s a highway built, it always comes through African American neighborhoods. We’ve been promised. The people in that neighborhood have been promised,” he said.

But when the vote was taken, Lewis cast the only dissenting ballot against the measure. Others, including councilmembers William Gregorie, Robert Mitchell, Keith Waring and Rodney Williams voted in favor of the transfer.

Waring explained his vote saying in exchange for the bus barn transfer they have gotten a $7.2 million commitment from the administration to build low income affordable housing.

“I feel it’s a good compromise,” Waring said last week. He thinks the Black community should hold the administration to its commitment.

Lewis remains unconvinced. Some people have cut deals with the administration, but the bottom-line is the administration has not moved to create any low income affordable housing to date.

“Why should we believe them now?” he asked.

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