By Samantha Swann
Community leaders, business people, developers and other residents gathered at Converse College Thursday morning to discuss the reality of, problems with, and solutions to Spartanburg’s current housing climate.
Spartanburg City Manager Chris Story kicked off the 2019 Spartanburg Housing Summit with a presentation on the state of housing in the city and county, based on data from two city-commissioned studies.
Story, who often emphasizes data-driven strategic action in discussions on community issues, outlined a number of striking statistics during his half-hour talk. For instance, 30% of city homeowners and 50% of renters are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
The majority of the housing issues Story outlined, including aging housing stock, poverty, and vacant properties also had large race-based disparities. According to data maps Story shared, the highest rates of these issues are concentrated in majority African-American neighborhoods, which also experience high rates of housing voucher use and fewer owner-occupied properties.
“I think it would be irresponsible of any local government person to begin a conversation of housing without first acknowledging the choices of the past that were impacted by and influenced by and in some case physically created by local government policies,” Story said, later noting “When we talk about housing, we talk about legacy as relates to race.”
He also discussed some plans the city has for addressing these issues. Looking forward, Story said the plan is to encourage the creation of mixed-income neighborhoods through market rate and affordable development, refurbishing the more than 2,600 vacant units and residential lots in the city.
One of the ways Story proposed achieving these goals was through working more closely with developers to find opportunities for more projects like the market-rate Bon Haven apartments, the tax revenue from which will be used to fund affordable or subsidized housing in the same area, and the affordable senior apartment building, Parkside at Drayton, which is placed in a majority market rate area on the east side.
He also said that projects that place market-rate housing in majority subsidized areas and affordable housing in majority market-rate areas will be necessary to build successful mixed-income communities and avoid displacement of residents as the city continues to grow, though he acknowledged that many of those neighborhoods’ residents likely wouldn’t approve.
“When you talk about housing affordability, we need to be honest about the role that nimbyism is going to play over the next decade or so in responsibly addressing this question,” Story said, referring to the acronym for ‘Not in my back yard’. “When we talk about that, that’s an important ethical, moral decision that we need to make about how that’s going to be addressed and we want folks to engage in the life of their neighborhoods, we want folks to be deeply concerned about what happens in their neighborhoods, but we also want them to be aware of this big picture of supply-and-demand challenges and these housing affordability challenges as it relates to neighborhoods.”
Story said some of the key goals in these actions will be de-concentrating poverty, avoiding displacement and gentrification and enabling multi-generational wealth creation through home ownership, an important topic since Spartanburg is in the bottom 25% of counties in the country when it comes to upward economic mobility.
In the coming months, Story said many discussions would take place on these topics as the city works on the city land development aspect of the new comprehensive plan. He said city staff would be reaching out to many of those in attendance for their input throughout the process.
“There are certainly no easy answers,” he said. “We need every one of you there.”
Other sessions for the five-hour summit included a panel discussion on the social and economic impacts of housing, a presentation on growth-promoting housing strategies used in Charlotte, North Carolina by Pamela Wideman, housing and neighborhood services director with the city of Charlotte, as well as talks on the legislature, trends in market demographics and housing supply, and middle housing.
Alex Moore, director of marketing and communications with United Way of the Piedmont, which organized the event, said the summit would allow Spartanburg leaders and residents to address any questions regarding housing and the city and county’s continued growth.
“We know our community is growing, so how do we do that in an inclusive, strategic way,” Moore said.