Former affordable housing complex Allen Benedict Court was demolished in October. The property is one of several in the process of being converted into new affordable housing. Photos by Christine Bartruff.
Third in an occasional series on housing and homelessness
There are only enough affordable housing units for one out of every five low-income renters in South Carolina, a troubling statistic according to housing experts.
Columbia, despite a robust economy and high-paying university and state agency jobs, is not immune. The capital city has 1,684 affordable units, about half the number available in 1998. That translates to long waiting lists for housing relief and resignation on the part of people whose wages don’t match escalating rents.
Here are some ways Columbia is working to solve the city’s affordable housing shortage.
Haven Home, a new nonprofit in Columbia, plans to take a new approach to the city’s affordable housing shortage. The organization plans to buy and manage a variety of already existing properties, all at an affordable rate.
“That’s the reason why we started Haven Home, to be different than what other nonprofits are doing,” said Dylan Gunnels, the director of Haven Home.
The organization is still raising money from donors and private investors, Gunnels said. Haven Home plans to raise $150,000 by April. However, even without much advertising, there are already 28 people on the waitlist, Gunnels said.
Haven Home is also working to provide counseling for its clients and partner with a credit repair company so clients can improve their credit scores.
“We know that we can’t just stick you in a home, pat you on the back and say good luck. This is a holistic thing we’ve got through here,” Gunnels said.
Gunnels is also a member of the Affordable Housing Task Force, a city committee started to address the state of public housing in Columbia. Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine began the task force in 2020.
“She understood there was a housing crisis,” said Sue Berkowitz, director of the SC Appleseed Center, a legal organization that advocates for low-income South Carolinians.
Berkowitz said the task force is working to make “broad stroke recommendations” and has discussed where funding for affordable housing will come from and how to expand units without displacing current residents.
In an effort to bolster Columbia’s housing stock, Columbia Housing, the body which oversees the city’s affordable housing units, has several projects in the works.
Columbia Housing will spend an estimated $88 million to replace Allen Benedict Court, a 1940s-era public housing complex that was evacuated nearly three years ago after a carbon monoxide leak killed two residents. Columbia Housing was fined $11,000 for code violations at Allen Benedict.
The new affordable housing complex will have more than 350 units, which are projected to begin leasing in December 2024, according to WLTX.
In January, the city is slated to begin construction on nearly 300 units at Oaks at St. Anna’s Park on the former site of Gonzales Gardens, an affordable housing complex demolished in 2017, and 150 units for seniors aged 62 and up at Haven at Palmer Pointe. These units are in addition to the 87 apartments added to the city’s lineup in June 2020 at Lorick Place on West Avenue.
Within the next decade, Columbia Housing plans to increase its holdings by more than 1,200 units, returning the total to its former levels. The expansion is part of its Vision 2030 plan, announced in May 2021.
Housing needs assessment
Housing has taken a backseat in Columbia’s list of priorities as its housing stock remained stagnant for years, according to Berkowitz, which she described as “very frustrating.”
Part of the issue is a lack of clarity on the city’s housing needs. To address this problem, Columbia commissioned its first-ever housing needs assessment to identify the number of units necessary to cover all people in need of affordable housing.
“I don’t want to single out Columbia because these are state and national trends of not enough housing being built, not enough housing being available for low-income residents,” said Bryan Grady, the chief research officer for SC Housing. “I highly suggest that there needs to be more commitment and resources to low-income housing.”
Grady is taking the lead on the Columbia-specific assessment after preparing similar statewide assessments for SC Housing, the agency responsible for financing affordable housing opportunities in South Carolina. The assessment will inform future housing and development decisions by giving Columbia a tangible, data-driven goal to work toward, he said.
“We need to make sure that we are developing communities that support a wide array of lifestyles that reflect the housing needs of the community,” Grady said.
It is unclear when the assessment will be completed.
Dylan Gunnels, the director of Haven Home, stands outside of the nonprofit’s Rosewood Drive office. The organization will allow clients to give input on the areas they would like to live, then flip houses and rent them at an affordable rate. Photo by Nick Sullivan.
Columbia Housing, formerly the Columbia Housing Authority, is currently overseeing the development of more than 1,300 planned affordable units.
Lorick Place is among the latest affordable housing projects completed by Columbia Housing. The property offers two- and three-bedroom apartments.
Sue Berkowitz is the director of SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center. Berkowitz began her career more than 30 years ago with the organization, which advocates for low-income individuals on issues including housing, hunger, immigration and more. Photo courtesy of Sue Berkowitz.
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Nick Sullivan is a senior multimedia journalist and former managing editor of his college paper, The Daily Gamecock. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, his favorite part of the job is fostering connections among readers. When the pandemic sent him home, he created his own local newspaper, The Strange Times, in order to bring stories of positivity and perseverance to his community. He has also worked as an editorial intern at Cincinnati CityBeat and a projects intern at The State.
Christine Bartruff is a senior multimedia journalism student from Disputanta, Virginia. She first fell in love with journalism while working on her high school yearbook. Bartruff served as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Gamecock. In summer 2020, she worked at the Stars and Stripes as a Dow Jones News Fund editing intern, where she edited content, reported and worked on a podcast. Bartruff loves telling others’ stories and is interested in reporting on politics.