As I ride around downtown Greenville, I admit that I’m happy that I live in such a vibrant community. Seeing the sidewalk restaurants and the groups of people walking to museums, theaters, events in the park, stores, concerts, and meet with friends is exciting and invigorating. When I remember how desolated the downtown once was, I am happy to see what is going on now.
And yet… for all the good news of what is going on in Greenville, there is also bad news. The people who used to be able to call the downtown home have been pushed out. Homeless people who used to live beside the Reedy River can no longer find peace and safety there. Homes along Church Street where people of lower income lived have now been replaced with condos and apartments for people with resources. The inner city was once an area where poor people lived because no one else wanted to be there. Now their former living space is desired by others and so once again they are forced to leave for areas that are “left-over.”
What makes all this so painful is that leadership in Greenville focused so intently on bringing in all the new construction and companies to the downtown area that they lost a huge opportunity to make that same growth available to those in our community who are on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
Some communities require that developers put a certain percentage of the cost of the project in a special fund that is used exclusively to build homes for low and moderate income people. Others require that a builder construct a certain number of units for low and moderate income people, not necessarily in the same area as the big project but new build nevertheless. Think about what could have happened if the leadership in Greenville had decided that for every 300 units built for people with resources that three units of housing for low and moderate income people would be provided by the same builder. That’s one percent of the project. If not three, then what about one?
In the last five years, the downtown Greenville area began burgeoning with thousands of homes for people who can pay significantly more than the fair market rate for a two bedroom apartment ($758 in South Carolina.) Thousands!!! Not-for-profit developers are thrilled when they can reach the 600 unit mark over the course of their existence as an organization. Is there a good news/bad news scenario here?
It is good news when a person is offered $40,000 cash for their home where they have lived for decades. The amount seems amazing to someone who has scraped by for more years than they care to remember. But the bad news is that the developer who gave the $40,000 tears the house down and builds a $400,000+ home on the property. Even though some will argue that everyone got what they wanted…did they really? Is this bad news for the longtime homeowner who got only ten percent of the value of the new home? Good news, bad news. Fortunately some community leaders encourage homeowners in their districts to talk with them before accepting a cash offer. Unfortunately everyone does not know to do that.
It is good news when new housing raises the tax base because of increase in property values. It is bad news when longtime homeowners who own their home outright are forced to move because they can no longer afford the property taxes. Some communities freeze property tax levels for longtime homeowners so they will not be forced to leave their homes. Our leaders have not done this.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, for every 100 deeply low income households in South Carolina, there are only nineteen housing units that are affordable and available. Deeply low income is defined as households with income at or below 15% of the Average Median Income which in South Carolina is $56,295. So the good news for people with resources is that they have a lovely choice of where they may choose to live. For those with $8444 or less, they have no choice or must live beyond what they can afford.
I love living in Greenville but I do not love how my beloved hometown is ignoring or dragging its collective feet in providing housing for many of our most vulnerable citizens. This is definitely a good news/bad news community! Is that the kind of community that we all want?