A proposed low-income housing project just west of Florence, South Carolina has local residents up in arms – and one member of Florence county council facing questions about his connection to the contemplated facility.
The so-called “Jessamine” project – part of U.S. president Joe Biden’s massive expansion of federal low-income housing tax credits – would rely heavily on federal funding.
According to an email from one of the project developers, this funding “functions similar to historic or new market tax credits in how tax credits are sold to generate equity and this equity allows the developer (us) to charge below market rents for an apartment that will meet – and in many cases exceed – the quality of a typical market rate apartment.”
The project would place sixty “townhome-style” apartments with a “strong residential feel” on a five-acre plot of land located two miles west of the city center of Florence – the largest city in the economically challenged Pee Dee region of the Palmetto State.
“The average rent for an apartment at The Jessamine is currently projected to be $700, with the highest rent currently projected at $840,” the email noted.
In addition to federal subsidies to build this project, many of the Jessamine’s residents are expected to receive federal rental subsidies. In other words, taxpayers will be paying for this development twice.
Florence residents who spoke with me this week said they had no issue with the project aside from its proposed location, described in a recent feasibility report (.pdf) as a “mixture of single-family homes and commercial properties, most of which are in good condition and upkeep.”
“They are putting a glorified section eight complex in the middle of a very nice part of Florence,” one resident told me.
“Section 8” housing was authorized by the U.S. Congress back in 1974 – ostensibly as a way of moving people out of urban ghettos. The Jessamine is not a section eight development, per se, however according to the feasibility report six of its units would be restricted to households at twenty percent of the area median income while the remaining 54 units would be restricted to households at sixty percent of the area median income.
The most recent U.S. Census data showed an area median income of $48,547 for the Florence metropolitan area – which is $7,680 below the state median income and $17,165 less than the federal median income. That would put the median income for most of the residents of this project at approximately $29,135. Developers insist the Jessamine will provide “safe, quality housing to working families” in Florence – including individuals “with jobs in the service, retail and hospitality industries, as well as entry-level positions in education, law enforcement and public works.”
Really? Based on my math, the average rent at this facility would consume nearly 30 percent of their annual income.
In addition to concerns about the location of this project, citizens are also questioning why Florence County failed to take steps to zone this property appropriately.
One possible reason? Kent Caudle – vice chairman of Florence County council – is currently employed as vice president of Florence, S.C.-based Palmetto Commercial Real Estate, the company that is the realtor on the sale of the property.
Another local leader, Florence city councilman William Schofield, owns a construction supply business and reportedly “stands to make big money off of the development,” according to one critic of project.
“Insiders profit, communities suffer,” the critic told me.
“Hugh would have never allowed this to happen if he were alive,” another source following the debate told me, referring to the late S.C. senator Hugh Leatherman.
Speaking of Leatherman, the two candidates vying to fill his seat in this month’s special election – businessman and community leader Mike Reichenbach and state representative Jay Jordan – are reportedly being inundated with requests from the community for them to weigh in on the project.
How will they respond? Stay tuned …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that vintage St. Louis Browns’ lid pictured above).
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