Post and Courier

If you want to see the future of affordable housing in Charleston, mosey up to Huger Street.

The Meeting Street Lofts fill an entire city block, and the complex is pretty typical of today’s upper peninsula: Five floors of apartments at varying price points, perched atop ground-floor retail space.

That’s an urban planner’s mixed-use dream, but the true innovation — and perhaps salvation for mere mortals who want to live downtown — is going up across the street.

This fall, the Charleston Housing Authority will tear down the 12 mid-century, brick-and-siding townhomes it manages at 275 Huger and build a modern 85-unit development in its place.

The new development will still include 12 units of public housing, and current residents will have the first shot at them. But they’ll be mixed in with 73 new apartments built and priced for workforce housing.

That means, by Charleston standards, affordable housing.

“It’s getting harder to find a decent place to live that people can afford, and by creating more units we can serve more people,” says Don Cameron, CEO of the housing authority. “We’re changing to be more reflective of today’s needs, re-imagining a system that’s been around since 1935.”

As The Post and Courier’s David Slade reported, 275 Huger St. is just the beginning. The Charleston Housing Authority is going to renovate or replace all 56 of the properties it owns on the peninsula and in West Ashley, Daniel Island and even Mount Pleasant.

See, the Charleston Housing Authority has signed on to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program, which Congress set up nearly a decade ago to renovate public housing using tax credits to attract private developers.

Which basically means the feds are trying to get out of the public housing business.

Cameron, who’s been with the housing authority for 45 years, notes that the program is no longer a “demonstration” and his crew waited to see how well it worked in other cities. After watching the progress in Lexington, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as Greenville and Spartanburg, the authority took the leap.

Despite the private investments, the housing authority will maintain control of the properties — which provide more than 1,400 units of public housing. The upshot is the housing authority will add between 800 and 1,000 units of affordable housing in Charleston over the next decade … without cutting into the inventory of much-needed public housing.

That’s not insignificant. One study suggests the city — where real estate prices are on the same trajectory as an Atlas rocket — will need more than 16,000 more affordable houses and apartments in the next 10 years.

This is one of the defining problems of the day. Right now, the county is debating — well, struggling — to find ways to increase the inventory of affordable housing, and the city of Charleston has dedicated more than $50 million to those efforts. That’s significant, but what the housing authority has planned is a game-changer.

This gives the city’s hospitality workers, and many others, options for living closer to work. That cuts down on traffic, and is an opportunity for the city to reasonably handle the sort of population density the peninsula saw a century ago.

But perhaps most importantly, Charleston Housing Authority’s plan removes the stigma of public housing. The Section 8 housing at 275 Huger St. won’t be segregated from the other units, it will be blended into the community — and, like their neighbors, those folks will live across the street from trendy and attractive places like Meeting Street Lofts.

City officials particularly like this because they’ll tell you, from a public safety standpoint, the problem with crime isn’t public housing — it’s a concentration of poverty. Integrating the city’s most vulnerable population into its trendiest new location is a good move, and it makes Charleston a safer place to live for everyone.

Cameron says that’s the idea. Charleston Housing Authority isn’t aiding and abetting gentrification, and is going to great lengths not to relocate its current residents to, say, North Charleston or Hanahan.

“People want to stay where they are,” Cameron says. “This allows that.”

The housing authority will save some of the more historic public housing developments by simply renovating them. But at places such as 275 Huger, there will be entirely new buildings that fit in with the current look of the upper peninsula. Basically, new Charleston is going to look a lot more like old Charleston.

That’s exactly what we need to remain a living, breathing and diverse city … as opposed to a gated community.

Reach Brian Hicks at