Mayor John Tecklenburg: Affordable Housing

October 3, 2017 – This week our club was graced with the return of one of its own – Mayor John Tecklenburg.  We know Mayor Tecklenburg as the chief executive of our fair city, but he is also a Rotarian with many years of service as a member of our club.  Having been involved with commercial real estate and development for many years, it is not surprising that Mayor Tecklenburg would bring to our club a message about the efforts of his administration and our city council to meet the very pressing need of having affordable housing available for all our city’s inhabitants.

When running for mayor, Tecklenburg cited three primary issues facing our city – education, transportation and housing.  These issues are all affected by growth and at the same time can limit our growth in the future.  In many ways according to Mayor Tecklenburg addressing the housing issues for our community also addresses issues of education and transportation.  He lamented the fact that for many who work in our city, affordable housing is only available in areas from Summerville and Goose Creek and beyond.  Needless to say if the affordable housing is located so far away from the employment centers, which are largely located in our downtown area, then traffic on our community’s streets and highways can only get worse and worse.

It is no surprise then that Mayor Tecklenburg announced with excitement the city-wide referendum scheduled for November 7 seeking approval for a $20 million bond initiative to fund specifically initiatives to increase the stock of affordable housing within the City of Charleston.  If approved, the bond funds will be added to an expected $10 million coming to the City from the recent repayment of the loan for the development of Charleston Place.  The result would be an infusion of $30 million into the City’s efforts to make affordable housing available.  Mayor Tecklenburg hopes to see an increase of about 800 units of affordable housing within the City limits as a result of this investment.

The positive impact of affordable housing is clear, but Mayor Tecklenburg also addressed the reason why is there a shortage in our community.  The median income in our city is about $68,000 annually and based on the benchmark of affordable housing costing no more than 30% of one’s income, the employee who makes the median income can purchase a home for around $240,000.  One does not have to research deeply to realize that homes in that price range within city limits are extremely scarce and there is simply nothing available for those who make below the median income level.  For those making below the median level there are subsidies available, but many who earn too much tor subsidies do not earn enough to afford a home or apartment within the City.  The City’s Workforce Housing initiative helps to fill this gap through projects such as one on Cool Blow and another, the East Central Lofts.

Mayor Tecklenburg stated that all studies indicate that it is essential that density of development be increased to avoid urban sprawl and the traffic headaches we all experience at rush hour.  Increasing density makes housing more affordable, but it is not enough.  An important tool the City uses to encourage the construction of affordable housing is the offer of mixed-use infill (MUI) zoning.  Under the City’s MUI classification builders were previously required to set aside 15% of the total units for affordable housing with a commitment that pricing of such units remain affordable for a period of ten years.  Under Mayor Tecklenburg’s guidance and with the support of our own fellow Rotarian, Councilman Peter Shahid, and other city council members, the City is increasing the set aside percentage to 20% and the length of time for such units pricing to 20 years, more than doubling the available affordable housing units through that one initiative. 

If a developer does not wish to set aside such units, the developer may pay the City a fee to buy out of the requirement.  The money the City collects through this program can be used to fund land acquisition for another tool Mayor Tecklenburg cited – a community land trust.  The intent of the City in establishing such a trust is to provide a base for affordable housing in perpetuity.  The model which has been successful in other parts of our nation is for the land trust to lease the land to the party wishing to build housing on the land.  Since the land is not owned by the owner of the structure, any increase in the value of the land will not be reflected in future sales of the structure alone.  Affordability is enhanced because future owners pay for increases in the structure value, but not the underlying land.

Mayor Tecklenburg stated that his service as mayor has shown him one additional issue beyond education, transportation and housing which needs to be addressed and that is the need to address inclusion and diversity in our city’s neighborhoods.  Inclusionary zoning would ensure that affordable housing is available throughout the City assuring that for generations to come the unique cultural and historic quality of life that our fair city developed over the generations which came before us.  Let us all be mindful of what makes Charleston the special place it is as we prepare to vote on the City’s housing initiative on November 7!

Alex Dallis, Keyway Committee