[image-1] Charleston City Council is set to once again consider a significant increase in workforce housing requirements in certain portions of the city.

Earlier this year, City Council members gave initial approval to a new set of requirements for developers opting to take advantage of the city’s Mixed-Use Workforce Housing zoning. Under the current system, developers building in this special district are offered an unlimited density bonus on residential units and reduced parking requirements in exchange for setting aside at least 15 percent of available units as workforce housing. Available for renters earning less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), these residential units must be offered at below market rates for at least 10 years.

The proposed changes that gained initial approval from City Council would increase the required amount of workforce housing from 15 to 20 percent and require that these more affordable units be maintained for 25 years. Developers not wishing to provide the required amount of workforce units would have the option of paying into the proposed Workforce-Affordable Housing Fund maintained by the city to pay for the creation of new affordable housing projects and improve current workforce housing.

As currently suggested, this fee would be $3.40 per square foot of workforce housing not provided for projects already in the pipeline, but that rate would increase to $5.10 for any development presented at a later date. In May, the city’s Community Development Committee approved an agreement with Woolfe Street’s Skygarden developers to set aside $520,587 instead of providing 14 units below the market rate.

After passing first vote from City Council, the proposed changes went to the city Planning Commission, who ultimately voted to recommend a reduced set of requirements than initially presented. Under the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the amount of required workforce housing would remain at 15 percent, but the time requirement for workforce rates would be increased to 15 years, rather than the 25-year time frame proposed by City Council. Set for public hearing at City Council’s upcoming meeting on July 11, a two-thirds vote would be needed to overturn the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

For those uncertain of the burden that housing prices place on many Charleston residents, the most recent State of the Nation’s Housing report from the Joint Center of Housing Studies at Harvard provides a fresh update. According to the report, more than 42 percent of renters in the Charleston-North Charleston metro area pay more than 30 percent of their annual income toward housing costs. Exactly 23 percent of local renters — or 21,800 households — spend at least half of their income on housing.

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