In the rapidly growing city of Greenville, S.C., as in many others nationwide, the demand for housing is increasing, while the supply is shrinking – a trend exacerbated by a framework of outdated policies that limit housing diversity. Facing the problem head-on, the REALTORS® of Greater Greenville teamed up with a number of other community organizations to host a housing forum to address what kind of housing is needed, and the existing local land use and zoning codes that inhibit its construction. A Housing Opportunity Grant helped them to do it.
There’s no silver bullet to solve the affordable housing problem that so many communities face, asserts Chris Bailey, Government Affairs Director of Greater Greenville Association of REALTORS® (GGAR). “The solution has to be long-term, because there are often complex issues like education and transportation involved; yet politicians, who live from term-to-term, may not be all that interested in long-term thinking, and, of course, tax hikes are the kiss of death.” So the goal of the housing forum, he explains, was to show city administrators what they could actually be achieving if only their zoning policies weren’t so antiquated. GGAR partnered with a broad range of local charitable and advocacy organizations such as Upstate Forever (a local conservation organization,) Piedmont Health Foundation, and the Jolley Foundation, as well as Piedmont Natural Gas, the American Institute of Architects, and the City of Greenville, to present the half-day program to a capacity crowd of 200 stakeholders and municipal officials.
The event’s keynote speaker was Karen Parolek of Opticos Design, a firm renowned for its work on the concept of “missing middle” housing, the kind of multi-unit or clustered housing that is affordable by nature, and compatible in scale with conventional single-family homes. Break-out panels featured experts discussing shifting demographics, barriers to development, and the newly created Greenville Housing Trust Fund. “It may have seemed like a strange partnership, initially, pairing speakers from the Home Builders Association with affordable housing advocates,” says Bailey, “but if you really want to learn about the barriers to development, there’s no one better to ask than the home builders, who are the ones who actually have to pull permits.”
“There were a lot of ‘Aha!’ moments, and there’s strong momentum moving forward,” he continues, reporting that the Greenville City Council has already agreed to cut all permitting fees by 50% on housing projects under $169,000. “That really helps,” he says, adding, “Now if we could just get them to reduce a handful of codes… there’s actually one on the books here that requires housing facades to be a certain percent brick. That’s the kind of low-hanging fruit we’ll be going after in the short term, the baby steps that will make it easier to provide the housing our city needs.”
The Greater Greenville Association was no stranger to the REALTOR® Party grant programs; in fact, Bailey is such a believer that he promoted them in a talk at last year’s Association Executive Institute. “These grants are a great way for associations to meet the core standards,” he says. “They’re so user-friendly, no matter how small your association staff might be; there’s no reason to be intimidated. The applications are only a few pages long, and they help organize your thoughts, and ultimately, your project. Plus, the National Association has a great staff to help you every step of the way with advice and expertise. I can’t recommend them highly enough!”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Greater Greenville are using REALTOR® Party resources to encourage policy makers to reduce barriers to affordable housing, contact Government Affairs Director Chris Bailey at 864-992-1953.