Affordable apartments can be found

The 13 duplexes at the William Enston Homes on the Charleston peninsula are part of the area’s inventory of “workforce” rental housing. File

Charleston voters will decide in November whether to let the city borrow $20 million to pay for affordable housing — twice the sum that voters approved for the same purpose in 2001.

Geona Shaw Johnson, executive director of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, has estimated that the money would produce 808 new rental units, priced to meet the needs of residents in various income levels. 

City Council voted in April to put the question on the Nov. 7 ballot.

While state law doesn't require council to approve a specific allocation plan before the referendum is posed to voters, council's Committee on Housing and Community Development approved a draft list last week of projects that could be funded with the money.

According to the proposal, the general obligation bond would give the city money to lend to public and private organizations looking to create affordable housing, either through new construction or by rehabilitating existing structures.

While the bonds would be backed by the city's taxing powers — which will help insure a lower interest rate — the debt is expected to be repaid over time by rent revenue from the new homes.

City residents wouldn't see any new taxes, said city spokesman Jack O'Toole. 

The Charleston Housing Authority could be one of the organizations that receives a slice of the money.

The authority used the $10 million the city borrowed in 2001 to build 64 affordable rental units. About half of them went up downtown at Huger, King, Simons and Romney streets. Another 28 were constructed in the Blakeway Condos on Daniel Island. 

Rent revenue from those properties has not only paid off the debt but also helped generate enough income for the authority to build new properties. Some residents, particularly in the Blakeway Condos, railed against that concept earlier this year, complaining that they shouldn't see their rents increase to pay for new projects.

Authority Executive Director Don Cameron said recently that those rent prices on Daniel Island have since been re-evaluated to ensure they weren't more expensive than market-rate rents in the area.

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Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

Abigail Darlington is a local government reporter focusing primarily on the City of Charleston. She previously covered local arts & entertainment, technology, innovation, tourism and retail for the Post and Courier.