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Editorial: Charleston County Council needs to follow through on Joseph Floyd Manor

Joseph Floyd Manor01.JPG (copy)

Maintenance problems such as mold, pests and poor air quality, continue to plague Joseph Floyd Manor, where residents are generally elderly or disabled people who live below the poverty line. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

The deteriorating conditions inside Joseph Floyd Manor made news more than a year ago when The Post and Courier exposed residents' ongoing battles with mold, leaks and bedbugs. Despite this spotlight, too little has been done to solve their problems, and the county-run public housing high rise is yet another reason we're still waiting for Charleston County Council to engage in our region's wider struggle to find residents affordable, safe and clean places to live.

County Council does not oversee the day-to-day running of the building on Charleston's upper peninsula, but it does appoint those who do: the board members of the Charleston County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. And it's clear that neither the board nor County Council has made much progress on addressing the building's unhealthy conditions.

As detailed in a report earlier this month by Post and Courier reporter Jocelyn Grzeszczak, the high-rise still is plagued by rats, leaks, mold and other problems that often crop up in a 70-year-old building that hasn't undergone a major renovation in decades. Federal inspectors gave it a failing grade in October 2020, with a score of just 19 out of 100 possible points.

The most immediate reason we haven't seen progress has been the authority's lack of leadership, particularly the absence of a permanent executive director for 17 months; its new executive director, Franklin Scott, started work last month. But the larger reason is an authority board that still lacks a long-term plan. Mr. Scott told Ms. Grzeszczak he wanted to strategize about what the building might look like next year, but the planning also must look well beyond that time horizon.

We're encouraged that the county is considering using American Rescue Plan money to purchase some of the county housing authority’s single-family homes in Charleston and North Charleston and then work with those cities' housing authorities to ensure they remain affordable. That would provide needed cash, but it's a relatively small step, as is the city of Charleston's offer to have its maintenance crews help catch up on repairs at Joseph Floyd Manor.

The larger step is figuring out whether to replace the building or empty it out for a through modernization. That's the planning work that the housing authority board must continue to focus on. It might be possible to build a new building next door, but the authority also must figure out what to do with current residents in the interim, and ultimately how many affordable units will exist when the building is done: As long as at least as many affordable units are maintained, the new project could include more of a mix of rents.

And here is where County Council also has to step up. Housing costs in the county are hammering household budgets, lengthening commutes and hurting businesses looking to hire. The current predicament of Joseph Floyd Manor — where limited rents and federal subsidies, mixed with uneven leadership with a limited vision, have led to worsening conditions for disabled and elderly residents — is but one example.

The county needs to find a way to help raise money to address these sorts of problems; its consultant is working on a plan, and that's an important step. The lack of a plan was a big reason county voters narrowly rejected a proposal last year that would have added $24 in taxes on a $300,000 home to raise money to help build more affordable housing.

Council members should feel a sense of urgency to move ahead with a plan to provide additional financial support to create more affordable housing. As Joseph Floyd Manor shows, when momentum on solving these problems slows down, the problem only gets worse. 

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