The Sergeant Jasper was never going to make the cover of Architectural Digest.

This 14-story apartment building near Colonial Lake never really fit in with the peninsula's classical and Victorian styles. It's more 20th century Bronx.

But that doesn't mean it won't be missed. Last month, the building's 300 residents got notice that the Sergeant Jasper will be torn down this summer. They have to find a new place to live.

Good luck with that.

The Sergeant Jasper houses College of Charleston students, retired folks and professionals. Some stay for months, others have been there for years. Its appeal is simple: There aren't many places to live downtown for less than $600 a month.

"It's a wonderful source of relatively affordable housing," says Mayor Joe Riley. "I'm sorry to see it go. But the owners have no choice. The building has exceeded its lifespan."

It's unfortunate, because even if the Sergeant Jasper has outlived its usefulness, Charleston hasn't outgrown a need for affordable housing.

A man, a plan ...

According to another fancy magazine, Conde Nast, Charleston is the nicest place in the world to visit.

Yes, but the question is, who can afford to live here?

This is a problem for the entire region. A recent study found that 35 percent of Charleston County homeowners and half its renters live in places beyond their means. The numbers are similar for Berkeley and Dorchester counties. It's pricey here.

But this problem is most evident on the peninsula. All this beauty and charm - well, except for the kind of Charleston charm that pollutes basic cable - has driven up the price of downtown housing to the point that few mere mortal middle-class folks can afford it.

For four decades, the mayor has said that Charleston must remain a living, breathing city - a diverse place. That means people of all socio-economic strata. It's a noble goal, but it's not simple. There's this thing called market value.

The Sergeant Jasper sits on a huge tract overlooking the Ashley River that is worth millions, and you can't blame a developer for wanting to make better use of it. It's a common tale in Charleston.

The city, at Riley's direction, has been trying to mitigate the effects of the market for years. And most people will tell you this city has done a better job than most places. In the past decade, the city has saved, renovated or added about 400 relatively affordable houses on the peninsula, as well as another 350 apartments.

While the Charleston Housing Authority manages the stock of low-income housing, the city - alone and in partnership with several nonprofits - has bought, renovated and made available houses, apartments and condos for families that live on a median income. In Charleston, that translate to about $61,000 a year.

These relatively affordable places include units in the Canterbury House on Market Street, Radcliffe Place, the King Street Palace and various single houses scattered all across downtown.

The city has used zoning and covenants in some places to ensure that the houses remain modestly priced. In other words, some of these homes have restrictions that prevent people from buying the houses and flipping them a few years later for a massive profit.

The city is continuing to chip away at the problem, but it has to deal with rising values same as the rest of us.

Good compromise

When the Beach Co. tore down the Shoreview apartment complex about a decade ago, some people had the same reaction they are having now.

Shoreview, which sat on the river just north of Hampton Park, provided cheap housing for service-industry workers. The Beach Co. replaced it with Longborough, a really attractive neighborhood that few people in this state would call affordable housing.

But the city made a deal with the developer that resulted in more than 40 modestly priced condos to the neighborhood. It was a good, reasonable compromise.

Now the Beach Co. (which also owns Sergeant Jasper) is dealing with the same thing again. But the company is meeting with neighborhood groups and city planning and preservation types to figure out exactly what will go in the place of the not-so-grand old apartment building.

It's too early to say what it will look like - the developer has gone back to the drawing board - but the city seems to have a knack for squeezing a few fairly affordable places out of just about every developer.

And good for them. That's the only way Charleston will ever look like Riley's vision of a living, breathing - and diverse - city.

Reach Brian Hicks at