Thousands of people drive past 0 Wallace Lane every day and probably never notice it.
It’s about 1.25 acres fronting Ashley River Road just a block from Tobias Gadson Boulevard — a mostly overgrown lot with a few live oaks and an old house.
Sometimes truckers park there, and occasionally someone will dump their trash in the weeds. It seems like an ideal candidate for redevelopment. The place apparently doesn’t even warrant a street number.
But last week, when a developer asked Charleston County Council to build a dozen modestly priced homes (by local standards) on that property, the Wallace community fought it ... and council nixed the requested rezoning.
And that is exactly the problem we’re going to have with affordable housing in Charleston.
“We had a private developer, meeting all the county specs in the West Ashley master plan, on an infill parcel … by every measure a no-brainer,” said Councilman Brantley Moody, who represents the area. “For this council to talk about affordable housing — how we have to do something — and you reject a layup? That’s pretty laughable.”
Fair point. In many ways, 0 Wallace Lane was a perfect candidate for affordable housing. But council sided with the neighborhood, which is understandable. That’s local politics.
But if that’s going to be the default position from local officials, there simply will never be enough affordable housing in Charleston.
A 2019 study from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce found the county needs 2,600 new units of affordable housing each year for the next decade to keep up with demand. A city study released this week says we need even more.
Since only 100 such homes were built in 2019, we’re already behind. And houses aren’t getting any cheaper.
On Tuesday, David Slade reported the number of homes in South Carolina priced under $200,000 is dwindling. Some local cities, notably Charleston, are underwriting and promoting multiple affordable and workforce housing developments. Still, there’s a steep hill to climb.
Charleston County put two affordable housing questions on the ballot last year, asking taxpayers to kick in a modest amount (about $25 per year for the owner of a $300,000 home) toward a program to subsidize affordable housing development. The proposals failed narrowly.
And here we are.
The folks who live on Wallace Lane, a small road off Richmond Street near the Salvation Army, say they don’t want the additional traffic that 12 townhouses or duplexes would add to the 21,600 cars passing by on Ashley River Road every day. Their kids play in the street, and several pointed out that their neighborhood was all single-family housing.
A few noted that they had given up a third of their land to build Interstate 526, so their community has done its part.
The county’s planning staff said this was an attractive project because it brought affordable housing to a rare undeveloped lot inside the 526 loop.
The property already has water and sewer infrastructure in place, and multifamily housing fit with the area’s comprehensive plan (there’s an apartment complex a block away). The price of the proposed homes — just under $250,000 — mirrored the value of adjacent property, so it wouldn’t hurt anyone’s resale.
Believe it or not, these days quarter-million-dollar homes qualify as “affordable,” or at least “workforce,” housing here. The average median income for a family of four in the county is about $74,500. The developer said anyone making 80% of that would qualify to buy one of the Wallace Lane townhouses or duplexes.
As Moody says, council missed a slam dunk. But truth is, a lot of residents simply don’t want more housing of any kind in their neighborhood, so prepare for many more similar fights. That’s going to make building affordable housing difficult anywhere this side of Ravenel.
Moody’s council colleagues took umbrage at his criticism, and recounted their efforts to expand affordable housing. They are trying, but Councilwoman Anna Johnson correctly notes they must do a better sales job.
“We saw how one community, one settlement community, rejected a proposal — do we not think there are going to be others?” Johnson says. “We’re going to need big money to have any impact (on affordable housing). And we’re going to need the support and approval of the public.”
She’s right, too. But doing that, without raising the ire of existing neighborhoods, might prove harder than finding a home under $200,000 in Charleston County.