The Charity Foundation, a nonprofit associated with Charity Baptist Church in the Liberty Hill neighborhood of North Charleston, has big plans for affordable housing on city-owned property.
The land is owned by the city, and earlier this year, the nonprofit agreed to spend two years proving its financial competency to officials before acquiring the lots. After a narrow 6-4 vote Thursday, city leaders voted to prematurely to offer the wooded 4704 Mint Ave. to the nonprofit.
"We’re almost at the finish line," said Nashonda Hunter, leader of the Charity Foundation.
Construction costs will only continue to rise and residents, she has said, do not have time to lose.
The prospect of gentrification is particularly worrisome for those who know and care about Liberty Hill — one of the Lowcountry's oldest African-American communities, founded by the families of four freed slaves in 1871.
To keep it at bay, the Charity Foundation — a nonprofit associated with the neighborhood's Charity Baptist Church on East Montague — has turned its attention to these five vacant lots owned by the city.
Council members Virginia Jamison, Todd Olds, Michael Brown (of District 10) and Rhonda Jerome voted "no." Mayor Keith Summey was absent, but at previous meetings he had voted in support of the land transfer.
The ordinance that council members voted on Thursday lacked a "reverter clause" — a guarantee that, if the Charity Foundation attempts to sell the land or if the group fails to succeed in its goal, the land will return to the city.
"To me, that's our insurance policy," Jerome said. "To my knowledge, this is the only (land donation) we've ever done without a reverter clause."
What the clause essentially does is keep the full title of ownership of the property in the city's name. Hunter said that would have posed a problem when it came to acquiring the loans needed to see development through.
The nonprofit, she explained, needs to use the property itself as collateral for financing, and that cannot be done with the reverter clause. To her surprise, Summey not only supported the Charity Foundation's request — he led the vote to remove the reverter clause.
"Literally, jaws dropped all over the room," Hunter said. "With the mayor’s background in construction, he understands. ... We need to secure a loan in order to secure this project."
In addition to chasing these city-owned lots, the Charity Foundation has sought access to dozens of privately owned vacant lots in Liberty Hill. Most of those lots are owned by the children or grandchildren of the last family that resided on them, and because of the complexity of South Carolina's heirs property laws, it's nearly impossible to buy those now rotting homes from the families.
The Charity Foundation has existing partnerships with the S.C. Community Loan Fund and the locally based Increasing Hope financial literacy program. A third partner, Origin SC, played an integral role in the church's purchase of its first affordable home on Independent Avenue in Liberty Hill.
Of its partnership with Origin SC, Hunter has said, "They not only assist us with funding for affordable housing, but they also assist with our financial literacy piece, providing credit counseling and debt management to help our community members become home owners."
The Charity Foundation ultimately is pushing for long-term homeownership, not rentals. For a low-income family in today's housing market, a valuable purchase could be a flat or two inside an apartment complex.
Single-family homes will be built on the wooded Mint Avenue lot. If all goes well and the city votes to donate more land, the church would pursue multi-family housing at 4880 Luella Ave. and 1592 Varner Lane.