President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday establishing a committee to examine regulations that stonewall affordable housing developments across the country.
It’s a move that housing authorities in the Palmetto State say could have wide-ranging implications in addressing the state’s growing affordable housing crisis.
“From what I read about the executive order, I think their focus is what’s going on at the local level that adds to the cost of affordable housing, whether it’s permit fees or planned review fees,” said Don Cameron, president of the Charleston Housing Authority.
Whether it’s a luxury apartment or a multi-family development, Cameron said the building materials for housing cost the same. But other costs can add up, such as paying permit fees and waiting for development plans to get through required review processes.
“Time is money,” Cameron said. “I’m glad to see the president has made this a priority. It’s all a good thing.”
Called the White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing, the committee will be chaired by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and will consist of 10 senior administration officials. They are tasked with gathering feedback from state and local governments to identify cumbersome regulations that may interfere with affordable housing being built.
The council must submit a report to Trump in the next year, but it has no legal authority to overturn or amend any regulations it deems burdensome.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., attended Tuesday’s executive order signing at Trump's invitation and has been an active advocate of affordable housing solutions since he chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs, spokesman Ken Farnaso said.
"The American Dream so often is seen through the prism of home ownership. This executive order will accelerate the path of responsible home ownership and is proof positive that your conscientious, compassionate, conservative leadership is undeniably focused on the most vulnerable folks of our economic chain," Scott said at the signing ceremony.
A 2017 Post and Courier analysis revealed that the affordable housing crisis in Charleston is on pace to mirror San Francisco's. In many parts of Charleston County, the report found, it takes at least a six-figure income to buy a typical single-family home. The county’s median household income is about $55,000.
For any housing to be considered "affordable," its cost must not take up more than 30 percent of a household's monthly income. For years, local leaders have struggled to fund solutions to the affordable housing problem, but they've hit snags along the way.
For instance, Mount Pleasant Town Council eliminated incentives for below-market-rate apartments and formed a task force to examine affordable housing — which created a nonprofit group that now has no land or funding sources. And a 72-unit home built for seniors using tax incentives was declared unfit to live in and has been empty for more than a decade.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness praised the Trump administration’s efforts to examine the issues affecting affordable housing, but it said deregulation is only part of the problem.
“Reversing the nation’s affordable housing crisis and halting the growth of homelessness will require a robust, sustained, and sophisticated effort. Removing needless regulation is one strategy, but it cannot be the only one,” Nan Roman, president and CEO of the group, said in a statement.
Examining housing regulations is a delicate balance between keeping the ones that actually make housing affordable and safe, and eliminating the ones that are unnecessary or discriminatory, the NAEH said.
The S.C. Housing Finance and Development Authority also celebrated the move to look at affordable housing on a national level, saying it hoped it would energize the federal government to support initiatives from state and local housing agencies.
“S.C. Housing would encourage its own stakeholders to provide feedback to the council when appropriate and would also encourage the same feedback be provided to S.C. Housing, so the voice of South Carolina can be amplified,” said John Tyler, director of Housing Initiatives and Innovation.
One key recommendation Cameron would suggest for the committee is a new program to provide incentives for affordable housing. Affordable housing developments, he said, should be eligible for priority inspections among other efforts to reduce bureaucratic red tape.
“Again, time is money. There’s ways of incentivising some of the things they’ll identify,” he said. “All of that together is really important. There isn’t any one thing or one fix.”
Ultimately, since the council has no legal authority to make any changes to housing regulations, Cameron said he hopes the national attention gives local leaders the impetus to act.
“At the end of the day, it’s a local issue. It’s up to our city leaders and elected officials,” he said. “Hopefully, this raises the issue on their plate. If the president is looking at it maybe we should, too.”