As multiple municipalities in its jurisdiction had recently completed their mandated five-year comprehensive plans, the Charleston Trident Association of REALTORS® was determined to keep those efforts alive, rather than languishing on shelves. With a housing summit and a deep-dive study supported by Smart Growth and Issues Mobilization Grants, it’s helping the region move its plans from paper to policy.
Like so many areas of the country, the region around Charleston, South Carolina is experiencing a dire housing crunch, with a steep drop in all inventory, but especially at the affordable and missing middle levels. With four counties and thirty-seven municipalities in its operating area, including three of the top five populations centers in the state, the Charleston Trident Association of REALTORS® saw an opportunity to serve the region with practical steps to increase sorely needed housing.
In 2020, explains Government Affairs Director Josh Dix, several local municipalities had gone through the grueling process of completing a five-year comprehensive plan, as mandated by the state. “There’s nothing worse than doing all that work, only to have it relegated to a shelf,” he says. Pondering the potential pitfall, he was struck by an idea: “What if we did a program that actually took action, asking the question, ‘So, you’ve done your comprehensive plan – now what?’ What if we helped these municipalities propel their plans from paper to policy?” With help from a Smart Growth Grant from the REALTOR® Party, and in partnership with the Charleston Homebuilders Association and the Urban Land Institute, the REALTORS® hosted a planning summit in March 2021, bringing in experts Shane Phillips, author of The Affordable City, and John Hunt, an Atlanta-based housing analyst. It was attended by over fifty participants, mostly local planners, officials, and zoning staff.
The summit received excellent feedback, reports Dix, and jump-started lots of conversations. The national speakers, he adds, served as a strong catalyst to the next step in the process: commissioning a detailed housing study from Anderson Economic Group, supported by an Issues Mobilization grant, to include recommendations for specific actions to address zoning changes that would lower barriers to affordable housing development. The study, delivered in December 2021, was not an analysis of the needed housing, which was already clear, but a thorough audit of the zoning codes that were obstructing development of necessary ‘missing middle’ housing.
About eight of the study’s recommendations were nearly universally applicable, says Dix. “The overall takeaway is that we need to be looking at the problems differently, and we need more options in the housing playbook. We found that our municipalities should be seeking reductions of minimum lot size, for instance, and re-thinking parking requirements, especially if we’re pushing for public transportation. We should be pursuing public/private partnerships to get public servants like teachers and first responders into housing near their work. The study gave us some very clear directives, which is just what we needed.” Since receiving the recommendations, three zoning revision initiatives are already in the pipeline, and the City of Charleston is considering expedited processing for small efficiency dwellings. Dix expects the strong forward momentum to continue, and for the region to be looking to the REALTORS® for leadership.
“We are now the subject experts, not just in housing, but we have expanded our expertise to include economic development as well. When you’re fighting NIMBYism and all the other obstacles to creating affordable housing, you need all the goodwill in your corner that you can possibly get!” He credits his board with being supportive of the kind of big ideas that are going to move the needle on the region’s affordable housing crisis. “They have faith in us to do the kind of work that needs to be done. That, and the funding behind it, has given us real skin in the game and counters the perception that all we do is show up and say ‘no!’ at City Council meetings,” he notes. “It’s been great for our relationships with our civic leaders and fellow stakeholders, and we would not be able to do what we’re doing without NAR’s support.”
To learn more about how the Charleston Trident Association of REALTORS® is propelling its region toward affordable housing solutions, contact Government Affairs Director Josh Dix at email@example.com or 843.608.8625.