Residents of the Maryville-Ashleyville community in West Ashley used to gather on a corner of Sycamore Avenue to protest an adult entertainment business, which was eventually torn down after a zoning fight that went to the S.C. Supreme Court.
These days a Circle K gas station and convenience store sits at Sycamore Avenue and St. Andrews Boulevard, where C&C Video used to attract protesters. Just steps away, a vacant lot on Sycamore was the setting Friday where residents and city officials gathered to celebrate plans to build seven affordable houses in the community.
The houses are the latest in the city's Homeownership Initiative, which was created under former Mayor Joe Riley and has so far produced 110 houses and condos that were sold at below-market prices. The program is a standout in a state where few local governments are creating any affordable housing.
"We have been eagerly awaiting the construction of seven affordable homes in this neighborhood," said resident and neighborhood association President Diane Hamilton.
Florence Peters, the city's Housing Development Officer, said she's already received 15 applications from potential buyers of the houses, and continues to accept more. Preference is being given to residents of Maryville-Ashleyville, she said.
Buyers of the seven houses must earn no more than 80 percent of the area median income, which works out to $55,050 for a family of four, and varies by family size. Most houses and condos in the homeownership initiative are sold to buyers earning up to 120 percent of area median income; $82,560 for a family of four.
The Maryville-Ashleyville houses will be the first financed by a decision the city made last year, allowing apartment developers to build extra units in exchange for either charging below-market-rent for 20 percent of the apartments, or contributing funds to the city's affordable housing effort. That's where the more than $1.4 million to build the seven houses came from — payments by developers.
"The city of Charleston has really led this community in the number of units made available to our citizens, and the number of tools in our toolbox," said Mayor John Tecklenburg.
The city program keeps each new home in the program affordable for 90 years, no matter how many times it may be resold, through deed restrictions tied to the city's subsidy. For example, Charleston expects to spend an average of $202,000 on each of the seven new houses, but will sell them for an average $140,000 to buyers earning no more than 80 percent of the area's median income.
The home sales send money back to the city, to pay for more housing, and the city's net cost for each house is $62,000. Then, for the next 90 years, if one of the homes is resold, the buyers would have to meet the same income criteria, and the resale price could only rise to reflect the increase in the consumer price index, or area median income, since the last purchase.
“We can’t seem to build them fast enough," said Geona Shaw Johnson, Charleston's director of Housing and Community Development.
On the Charleston peninsula, four more affordable homes should soon be built in the East Side, through the city's partnership with nonprofit group PASTORS. The houses on Father Grant's Court, just off America Street, were listed for sale before construction, and just one remains unsold.
The last one, an 1,100-square-foot, 3-bedroom house, is listed for $249,145 — a steal in the current housing market, for buyers who qualify.
"We expect construction to start shortly," said listing agent Corwyn Melette. “Obviously, housing prices have begun to skyrocket."
He said some potential buyers balk at the resale restrictions, designed to keep the homes affordable for 90 years.
"It stops a buyer from purchasing the property in the mid-200s and selling it six months later in the mid-300s," Melette said.