housing

Myrtle Beach wants to make living in the city more affordable for its employees by helping with a home down payment or paying for part of the rent.

A new residency assistance program for city employees aimed at encouraging them to live inside the city limits was adopted by city council on Tuesday. The initiative includes rental and homeownership incentives as well as added incentives for living in designated sections of the city.

“To me, this looks like a tool that we could use to entice good quality workers to apply for our city jobs,” city councilwoman Jackie Hatley said. “And this would kind of be a perk if they’re looking at coming in and staying in the city.”

Officials said the city and its employees both reap benefits through the program. Full-time city employees making less than $55,000 are eligible.

Myrtle Beach entered into an agreement with Habitat for Humanity of Horry County to manage the initiative.

While Myrtle Beach’s employees are paid by taxes from city residents and businesses, most of their discretionary spending takes place near their homes. More city employees residing in the city means more funds being reinvested into the city’s economy.

City employees also help stabilize neighborhoods, and city residency means a swifter response to emergencies.

As for the employees themselves, they get shorter commute times, less car-related costs, improved access to city amenities and the city resident parking decal.

Right now, the city is looking at five neighborhoods — the downtown, Withers Swash, Booker T. Washington, Ramsey Acres and Harlem/Carrie Mae Johnson communities — as designated target areas for the initiative.

Currently 93.4% of the city’s full-time employees make less than $75,000, according to the resolution the city council approved Tuesday. Also, less than 16% live in the 29572 or 29577 city area codes

Here’s how the program works:

Under the homeownership assistance element, a city employee can choose a goal amount to save for a down payment, closing expenses or the interest rate (with a maximum of $10,000) and a date for achieving that goal (the maximum is 52 pay periods.) The city will then withhold money from the employee’s paycheck until half of the target amount is reached.

Once the employee reaches 50% of the goal amount (or 40% if the home is in a one of the five targeted neighborhoods), the city will match it at a rate of $1 to $1 ($1.50 to $1 if in one of the five targeted neighborhoods.)

The match from the city’s side would be secured through a second mortgage.

For each year the employee lives in the home and is still employed by the city, the second mortgage is reduced by one-fifth until it is cleared after five years.

As for the rental assistance component, employees will be able to apply for financial assistance of $100 per month ($150 per month in one of the five targeted neighborhoods) for up to three years.

The incentive payments would end if the employee moves out of the city, stops working for the city or fails to produce documentation of residency.

Employees that receive the assistance must provide a lease copy annually and let the city know if they move out.

There’s $100,000 available to go toward the program in Myrtle Beach’s workforce housing fund that is funded by the city’s special construction permit fee.

City councilman Gregg Smith cast the lone dissenting vote. City councilman Mike Chestnut was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Smith said he had concerns with people already living in the city receiving the same benefit under the rental assistance element.

Under the original proposal that the council eventually tweaked Tuesday, city employees already living in Myrtle Beach would receive a monthly stipend of $50 (or $75 if in one of the five neighborhoods) instead.

“I’ve still got some heartache,” Smith said. “I realize we’re saying we’re making it … equitable, however with no action, employees who rent within the city can just apply for this and get $100 to 150 a month. … They don’t have to move. They don’t have to do anything.”

Although city councilman Phil Render shared Smith’s concern, he voted in favor.

The five targeted neighborhoods include areas north and south of U.S. 501, but all are east of Robert M. Grissom Parkway.

The downtown is the area from 21st Avenue North to 14th Avenue South bounded by Kings Highway and the ocean.

The Withers Swash neighborhood is bounded by Maple Street to Kings Highway from 7th Avenue North toward the Family Kingdom Amusement Park edge at 5th Avenue South.

The Booker T. Washington neighborhood includes the area between 21st Avenue North and Mr. Joe White Avenue from Oak Street to east of Robert M. Grissom Parkway.

The Ramsey Acres neighborhood is south of U.S. 501 from Grissom Parkway to Highway 15 including Pine Island Road.

The Harlem/Carrie Mae Johnson neighborhoods sit side-by-side south of Joe White and east of Grissom. The neighborhoods include homes from Nance to White streets and from Canal Street to Dennison Avenue. The southern end of the neighborhood is bound by the abandoned rail road tracks that runs parallel to 8th Avenue North.

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