One of the last relatively affordable apartment complexes on the Charleston peninsula will soon disappear only to be replaced by a massive new 300-room hotel and expensive new residences.
The city Board of Architectural Review gave approval on Tuesday to demolish The Courtyards apartments at 411 Meeting St. to make way for the new project.
Not that the 33-year-old apartment complex is altogether worth saving. The building is an eyesore and the apartment community had a reputation for a dormitory-like atmosphere.
But The Courtyards story mirrors broader pressure on the housing market in downtown Charleston. Affordable residences are being torn down to be converted into higher end condos and apartments, leaving an ever-smaller supply of places for people like students and restaurant and hotel workers to live near where they study or work.
Of course, it would be even worse to convert affordable housing wholly to a hotel. Fortunately, that’s not allowed under relatively new city rules that prevent hotels from adversely affecting existing housing stock — in the case of The Courtyards, some 159 apartments.
In fact, The Courtyards redevelopment is the first time the city Board of Zoning Appeals has applied that standard and required a developer to replace existing housing in order to build a hotel. The rules worked.
But Charleston officials can’t legally require that those new apartments be anywhere near as affordable as the older ones they replace. State law banning rent control effectively prevents it, although a bill from Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, would give cities more leeway to set affordability requirements on new developments.
In the meantime, the city offers bonus density on certain properties if developers agree to set aside a percentage of new residences for so-called workforce housing affordable for people making up to 80 percent of the area’s median salary. It’s a smart idea albeit one that applies to a relatively narrow subset of the Charleston population. It’s worth considering loosening the definition of “workforce” to include more middle-income workers who struggle to afford life on the peninsula.
The city also plans to develop affordable housing near the footprint of the old Cooper River Bridge as part of an initiative that has been in the works for years. On Thursday, City Council approved a bond package to fund six needed infrastructure projects in the area.
It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach to address the affordability crisis in Charleston, so the city is right to tackle the issue on different fronts.
The loss of The Courtyards is a blow to the stock of low-cost housing on the peninsula, and 159 relatively affordable apartments will be tough to replace. But the fact that the new hotel on that property will be accompanied by the same number of new residences shows that the city has a strong set of rules in place to protect the housing supply.
That’s a smart priority for preserving a functioning Charleston where people live and work.