Charleston County Council task force recommends tax increase to fund affordable housing

A task force spearheading affordable housing in Charleston County is recommending raising property taxes to fund efforts in the area.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, task force members shared details of their new study on affordable housing  noting that since 2010, home sale costs increased 24 percent and rental prices increased 49 percent while the median income rose only 12 percent.

The committee’s review found that one-third of Charleston County households pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing alone, said Ian Scott, senior vice president of government relations at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

That’s 50,047 of the roughly 159,000 households in the county, he said.

Josh Dix, government affairs director with the Charleston Trident Area Realtors Association, said the proposed property tax increase would bring in $3.7 million annually. It would add $10 to the annual bill on an owner-occupied home worth $250,000.

Owners of a business or rental property worth the same amount would pay another $15 in taxes a year.

“What we tried to do is create some framework that would not only be applicable to unincorporated areas but also the framework that municipalities are asking for,” Dix said.

“It gives us a platform,” he added. “It gives us some directive so when we go talk with the city of Charleston, with Mount Pleasant, with Summerville, Dorchester County, Berkeley County — they’re all starved for this type of framework and what we’re doing here gives us that platform to move forward, not only in the county, but in the region.”

Dix said the task force also looked at licensing fees through short-term rentals, hospitality taxes and accommodations fees, but it decided a property tax increase would be the best option.

If North Charleston were to incorporate a similar tax hike, it would bring in about $500,000 a year, Dix said.

Scott said the three-step framework plan includes: finding revenue, directing that funding to a single source to efficiently create the most units, and then creating policies that “allow the market to generate more housing,” which “gives a framework for the private sector to plug in more regularly.”

Dix said that tax money could be put into a nonprofit, like the S.C. Community Loan Fund, and managed as a revolving loan fund.

“We can’t do this with just the county, we’ll need buy-in from all involved,” Dix said. “Everyone has to have skin in the game.”

Charleston County Council Chair Elliott Summey said Wednesday neighboring counties might also need to be involved.

“I recognize that affordable housing is an issue in the county and it bleeds over to all kinds of quality of life issues, like transportation,” he said, “but at the same time, I think it needs to be a more cohesive plan, maybe even a tri-county plan, like our transportation system. I don’t think it’s something Charleston County should do on its own.”

Another aspect of the affordable housing discussion is infrastructure and having people live closer to where they live and work.

Omar Muhammad, president of the Low Country Alliance for Model Communities, said the data collected shows that by 2030, the county will need 78,000 housing units to meet projected demand. That’s roughly 5,200 houses a year with 2,600 of those needing to be affordable based on income.

The task force of 16 members met several times, and its members include people involved in both for-profit and nonprofit housing, regional services, faith-based organizations and community groups.

Summey said he also would like to hear from the Charleston County Housing Authority as County Council figures out what to do next.

Summey said while he currently is hesitant to approve a property tax increase for affordable housing, he could support asking county voters if they want to tax themselves for this reason. “Referendums are good things,” he said.