Fort Mill votes to join housing consortium

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comMay 15, 2014 

Guynn Savage

JAMIE MEDLIN

— Fort Mill is teaming up with neighboring municipalities in hopes of getting more federal housing assistance.

Town Council voted unanimously May 12 to join the Catawba Region Home Consortium, led by Lancaster County, but also including York, Chester and Union counties. The consortium would bring in money annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Member municipalities would submit projects for funding from that pool.

“It could allow for $790,000 of annual funding for low- to moderate-income housing to be directly funneled to this area,” said Randy Imler, executive director of the Catawba Regional Council of Governments.

The consortium would operate with a four-county, 12-member board. Lancaster County and the Council of Governments would assume financial risk should money be used improperly. The group would run for three years, starting in July of 2015.

Instead of a traditional 25 percent match on projects, the consortium would get a 12.5 percent match requirement.

“That would only be if the town chooses to sponsor a program,” Imler said.

The match could come from owners of property being repaired, or from developers creating affordable housing.

“It’s all about local control and increased funding,” Imler said.

Councilwoman Guynn Savage said Fort Mill receives strong support for such projects already, to the point of being asked why they’d need more funds.

“In other areas we’ve had this experience,” she said.

The South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority provides similar funding, including $475,000 in 2010 and $175,000 in 2011 to the Fort Mill Housing Authority. Participation in the consortium wouldn’t impact the town’s ability to apply for other income sources.

“This doesn’t take us out of the competitive process,” Town Manager Dennis Pieper said.

All participating municipalities have to have ordinances signed and sent to Columbia by the end of June. There are six similar consortium groups in South Carolina collecting $3.65 million.

The more municipalities sign on, the more funding arrives. Of those dollars, 80 percent must target individuals or families at or below 60 percent of the area median income level. The remaining 20 percent must target those at or below 50 percent.

The program isn’t without detractors. Multiple York County Council members expressed concern May 5 when the group ultimately deferred a decision to its June 2 meeting.

“I’m a little hesitant on it,” County Councilman Joe Cox said.

His concern is with building new projects and how much York County would see as part of the four-county group. County Councilman Bruce Henderson said similar programs throughout the country take away local control, his concern being that low-income projects might be forced into areas where residents don’t want it.

“It’s not working in these places it’s being tried,” he said.

County Councilman Bump Roddey doesn’t see the program as a money drain.

“Anytime that we’re able to assist any family, definitely low- to moderate-income, and get them in a home out of a renting situation, that’s another property on our tax roll,” Roddey said.

County Councilman Chad Williams, who represents part of Fort Mill, said if local municipalities elect not to participate, they will be passing up on funds that will go elsewhere.

“We can not take a federal grant, and that just means that some other community gets it,” he said. “As far as local control, I think this gives us more local control than some of the other (federal programs).”

Annexation vote

Town Council also voted unanimously to approve first reading on an annexation that could bring a bed and breakfast to Fort Mill. The annexation includes all of two properties at less than 2 acres near Sutton Road and U.S. 21 Bypass, and parts of two more properties. One more reading is needed to finalize the move.

The Barber family wants to turn a 1952 home on Smythe Road into a bed and breakfast. The home previously sat where the Circle K is now at Sutton and the bypass. The family hopes to open the Belle Crane Inn by the fall.

“It looks like a wonderful addition to the town,” said Councilman Tom Adams.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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