Affordable housing in the works

Change for the area where the old Cooper River bridges once touched down stalled in the Great Recession, but the city plans to build apartments on Lee Street to begin to bring it back to life.

The barren area on the upper peninsula where the old Cooper River bridges once touched down is about to show signs of life, starting with some new apartments on Lee Street.

The city of Charleston will work with the Housing Authority to build about 170 rental units in about six buildings in the two-square-block area bordered by Lee, Hanover, Cooper and Meeting streets, said Tim Keane, the city’s planning director. He presented Thursday the initial conceptual plan to City Council’s Community Development Committee, which unanimously approved it.

The apartments will be available to people with incomes ranging from 30 percent to 120 percent of the area median income, Keane said, which means there would be some housing available for single people who bring in as little as $13,000 per year, or couples whose annual income is about $15,730.

Donald Cameron, president of the city Housing Authority, said the apartments likely would serve many lower-income elderly people.

Keane said the city now must fine-tune the plan, develop an agreement between the city and the authority, and then bring it to City Council for approval.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said working with the Housing Authority was the best way to not only build affordable housing but to ensure that it would remain that way. “Down the road, 40 or 50 years from now, we want the housing still to be affordable.”

Cameron said the housing development, which also will include about 12 homes available for purchase to provide some ownership opportunities, will cost about $30 million. The Housing Authority would build and manage it.

If City Council approves the plan, he said, the architectural work likely would take about 18 months and construction would take about two years.

The 3.1-acre development is part of 8 acres the city owns between Morrison Drive and Cooper, Lee and Meeting streets.

There was a low-income neighborhood in the area until it was torn down to make way for the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which opened in 2005.

Cameron said the new housing will serve many people who have incomes similar to those who lived in the neighborhood that once stood there. But it won’t be exclusively for low-income people, he said. And renters who receive housing subsidies will be interspersed with higher-income renters.

But, he said, the new buildings will look different from the small, single-family structures that once stood there.

The new, modern buildings will have parking on the first level, a measure meant to protect the apartments because the area tends to flood. And the structures will be built around open courtyards, providing green space.

City Councilman Robert Mitchell, who represents the area, said he likes the plan so far. But he wants to study it and get some feedback from neighborhood residents before the full council votes on it.

Councilman William Dudley Gregorie said he can support the plan because it isn’t exclusively low-income housing. “It if was 100 percent low-income, it would be a re-concentration of the poor,” he said.

It’s simply better for people when they can’t be singled out as poor because of where they live, he said. In this development, he said, “you won’t be able to tell which units are subsidized and which are market-rate.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.