Affordable Housing Progress in a Red State

State Senator Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, right, and State Senator Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton, during the first day of the 2017 legislative session at the South Carolina Statehouse. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

As the Texas legislature debates what has been called “perhaps the most expansive Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) legislation ever filed,” the South Carolina senate is considering a proposal about requiring developers to build more affordable housing. The bill is particularly surprising because it would give local governments increased authority on that issue — at a time when many red state governments are trying to limit municipal power on more traditionally progressive issues.

The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Marlon Kimpson (D-Charleston), would give local governments power to compel developers to either create affordable housing units as part of their projects or pay a fee, The Post and Courier reports. It moved forward Wednesday “despite the objections of home builders and real estate agents who said the ‘forced charity’ would be burdensome and ineffective,” according to The State.

A number of city reps present at the statehouse Wednesday, including Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, advocated for the bill.

“After listening to Tecklenburg and officials from Greenville discuss the need for more affordable housing in their cities, a Senate subcommittee voted to move the legislation forward,” according to the Post and Courier.

A number of developers and real estate agents balked. Lindsay Jackson of the S.C. Association of Realtors told The State that costs associated with below-market prices would be passed on to landowners and consumers. But a number of affordable housing advocates told the paper that the bill was a necessity because offering developers incentives to voluntarily build affordable housing hasn’t worked.

Kimpson sponsored the bill in response to what he characterized as an “affordable housing crisis” according to The State, and added that it’s difficult for public school teachers and medical school students, among others, to afford housing in Charleston County, where the median home price, in March, was $315,000.

“There is nowhere to live for the average working-class person,” he said.

The bill would also allow local governments to offer tax and permitting incentives for developers who comply with the mandates. One particularly appealing one: cutting to the front of the line for zoning and permit review, The Post and Courier reports.

If passed, the bill would be a departure from the trend of red states compelling blue cities to comply with statewide mandates. In North Carolina, HB2 (the deeply controversial “bathroom bill”) struck down a local Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice and also “eliminated cities’ authority to increase the minimum wage over the state minimum,” Jen Kinney reported for Next City in February.

Both The State and The Post and Courier stress that the bill is unlikely to pass in the 2017 session because lawmakers leave for the year on May 11. But if it proves popular enough, it could be taken up again in 2018.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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Tags: affordable housingreal estate