Housing on a Fast Track

July 27, 2023

Written by James A. Mallory

Hilton Head Island continues to build out a framework it hopes will lead to more workforce housing.

The Town adopted the Workforce Housing Framework last November as part of a long-term strategy to create affordable housing on the island, whether by the Town or private developers. The Framework comes as local businesses struggle to retain employees and maintain service.  

The workforce housing shortage has been a growing issue for years, not just on Hilton Head but in tourist spots around the country. In the post-COVID world, escalating real estate prices make it nearly impossible for many workers to live near their jobs. But the process to change this will not be completed overnight.

“When we do new construction, it takes a lot of time for planning and construction,” said Missy Luick, Assistant Community Development Director for the Town of Hilton Head Island.  “It is years in the making, but it is money well spent because it will be our housing in the future.”

Alex Brown, Ward 1 Town Council member, said Hilton Head had come a long way in putting together the infrastructure to get housing built. He pointed to the strategic framework and the expansion in June of the Town’s fiscal year 2024 budget to include $3.3 million for workforce housing, an increase from the $1 million allocation approved when the Framework was launched.

“I think we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

Luick is on point for the Town’s housing framework project, which builds on a housing strategic plan unveiled in 2019.  The need to address workforce housing gained added urgency last August when residents of Chimney Cove Apartments, many of whom worked in the island service industries, received 30-day eviction notices. The owner wanted to sell the property. Housing advocates and community and religious leaders kept the crisis at the forefront, and the 300 eviction notices were rescinded a month later. The Chimney Cove crisis led to the fast-tracking of a plan that became the housing framework.

Pillars of Progress
The Framework has four pillars. A key one is community input. In May, the Town Council approved the creation of a Workforce Housing Action Committee. It will serve as the reviewing body for the strategy. The committee will have seven to 11 members with experience in workforce housing, real estate, nonprofits and philanthropy. There will also be representation from workforce housing residents. The council has approved the appointment of six committee members, Luick said. A minimum of seven members is needed to get the process started.

“The community pillar is where the heart of the action committee lies,” she said.

A Housing Action Committee task will be to develop an anti-displacement plan to prevent another situation like what happened at Chimney Cove, Luick said. This plan would have triggers allowing the Town to react in a manner that benefits all parties.

Renter displacement happens more often than realized, Brown said.

“When it (property) is redeveloped, the only option for the renter is to leave the island,” he said. “We want to put together a structured plan so that there is a better outcome.”

The remaining Framework pillars call for:
•  Creating an environment that stimulates the development of workforce housing,
•  A dedicated staff for planning and coordination,
•  A revenue model for funding housing initiatives and partnerships.

In addition to the money earmarked by Town Council in June, revenue may be further enhanced by a new state law that allows communities to apply up to 15 percent of accommodation tax money toward workforce housing.

“It is an exciting change to state law that brings a potentially significant amount of money for program activities,” Luick said.

The Town is still seeking to hire a full-time workforce housing manager who will plan, coordinate and implement the workforce housing program. However, filling the position has taken longer than expected, in part because of the cost of housing on the island, Luick said.

“We started advertising in January,” she said. “It’s not been for lack of effort. We’re still in the candidate review and interview process. Hopefully, we are nearing a candidate.”

The Town hasn’t sat still waiting for the Housing Action Committee to get rolling. It is close to announcing a developer/partner for the Northpoint public-private partnership. That collaboration will build workforce housing on Town-owned land near the north end post office, Luick said. In addition, an analysis of Town-owned property was done to find out what is available for redevelopment into workforce housing, she said. Also, the Town got council approval to acquire seven acres on Bryant Road, off Spanish Wells Road, near the Cross Island Parkway for workforce housing.

Hilton Head also joined seven other municipalities that pledged $3.4 million toward the Beaufort Jasper Housing Trust, whose stated goals include creating new workforce housing or rehabilitating existing for households at or below 100 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), with priority given to households at 60 percent of the AMI.

“That regional effort is queued up and activated,” Luick said. “It is another resource in the housing landscape.”

Luick said the workforce affordability range on Hilton Head Island is currently 60 to 100 percent of Beaufort County’s area median income (AMI) set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for current Workforce Housing policies. As of May, the AMI was $111,300 for a family of four, up from $95,600 a year ago. The Housing Action Committee could recommend to Town Council an adjustment to the AMI range which would be a future policy decision, Luick said.

“We want it (workforce housing) to be integrated within the community,” she said. “Our goal with the production of workforce housing is to create vibrant, sustainable communities complete with amenities for livability that are fully integrated within the neighborhood where it is located.”

View the Workforce Housing Framework at: www.hiltonheadislandsc.govworkforcehousing/framework/