Connecting the Dots: Housing and Conservation

Date: June 19, 2013
Category: News

The views expressed are not the views of the SC Community Loan Fund and are part of an ongoing series of guest blogs connecting housing to broader community issues such as business development, economic development, conservation, and transportation.

We live, we eat, and we work here. We are a part of this complex community, along with every individual at the bus stop, parents stuck in traffic, sandpipers scurrying along the surf, and boaters travelling our waters. I work at the Coastal Conservation League (CCL), typically on issues related to land use and sustainable agriculture. Over the years of working on projects ranging from urban infill to local food, I have found the housing and conservation sectors frequently coincide. We advocate for many of the same fundamental issues – healthy food provision, accessible housing, adequate transportation, healthy air and water quality, and functional neighborhood design, among others – and when we unite to face these challenges, we are unstoppable. Central to all of our work is the understanding that we share a valuable place and unique culture, and it is not accidental. We are a crucial part of shaping it. Most importantly, as leaders and members of this community, we are influencing our community’s value and experience through decisions that we make and the work that we do.

The prime example of such influential decision-making is how we spend money as a state, county and city on transportation systems. Will we invest in modes of transportation that are accessible to the masses? Will we work to maintain our existing system? Will we build new roads? These key decisions make or break neighborhoods and communities, and it is no surprise that the housing and conservation sectors frequently engage in these vital discussions.

In a time when our nation’s, and certainly our state’s, highways and bridges are in disrepair, our communities need to feel empowered to ask elected officials to repair and maintain current infrastructure that affects us all on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the best interest of the entire community is not always the winning argument for a transportation project. The example in Charleston County that comes to mind is the proposal to spend $556 million to build 8 miles of new highway extending I-526. This project actually bisects and harms urban, suburban and rural communities in and around the City of Charleston.

Interested to learn more, CCL commissioned a study to analyze the impacts the proposed I-526 extension will have on properties within 1,000 feet of the proposed road alignment, if built. The results of the study are telling, if not surprising: Residents in West Ashley, Johns Island and James Island who own property near the proposed highway alignment face significant negative impacts to the marketability and value of their homes and properties, even if the road will not physically touch their land.

The study includes a survey of randomly-selected area residents who are asked, in part, to state their willingness to buy a home and their willingness to pay for a home near the proposed parkway alignment. The results show:

-68% of survey respondents state they likely would not purchase a home in the vicinity of the project.

-62% of survey respondents state that they expect to pay less for a home adjacent to the proposed parkway. On average, respondents indicate a home would need to be nearly 3.5 miles away from the parkway in order to avoid a price discount.

-Most respondents think the parkway would either temporarily (for over 3.5 years) or permanently negatively impact property values in surrounding neighborhoods.

-More than half of the respondents feel that it would take extra time (an average of 10 months) to sell a home located within 1,000 feet of the road, and many respond that it would be impossible to sell a home within 1,000 feet.

-When discounting purchase prices for homes in the area, around 56% of the surveyed population are not willing to purchase a property, even at a significantly discounted price.

In addition to these negative impacts, the Department of Housing & Urban Development has guidelines that discourage FHA-insured loans on properties within 1,000 feet of highways, which will present a substantial obstacle to property owners who intended to refinance or sell their homes.

The cumulative negative impacts of building the extension add considerably to the project’s $556 million price tag. At a time when transportation dollars are at a true premium, shouldn’t our decisions benefit the entire community? And why are we willing to negatively impact existing communities for just 8 miles of new highway? Our tax dollars should be an investment in our people, our communities, our assets, and our future. The time has come to link the people who live here to the decisions that affect everyday lives. It is a time for housing, conservation, agriculture, and economic development advocates to come together and demand smarter transportation planning, where the entire community benefits.

Lisa Jones Turansky
Sustainable Agriculture Program Director
Coastal Conservation League

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