DAMIAN DOMINGUEZ | INDEX-JOURNAL
Amid a push for more housing development in Greenwood County, the Greenwood SC Chamber of Commerce is hosting a housing summit to explore housing options.
Despite new housing developments like Hamilton Park off Calhoun Road offering more places to live in Greenwood, there’s still a need for housing throughout the county. Growing Greenwood requires more housing.
To bring new jobs to Greenwood, there have to be places for would-be workers to live. Industry heads need to see that a community has room to grow before they bring their operations and jobs here.
That’s why the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce is spurring on conversations of how to bring more housing into Greenwood with an Innovative Housing Summit on Friday.
The summit runs from 9 a.m. to noon Friday at the Little River Multicultural Complex, at 415 Riley Road N., Hodges. Guests must register to attend, and it costs $35 per person.
The summit will feature a panel discussion with local leaders working on the housing problem, along with a discussion of “cottage courts,” an approach to designing neighborhoods chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan said might be a fit for Greenwood.
“As we’re looking to attract and retain staff and new people to come to Greenwood, we’re looking at opportunities of offering mixed housing and we’re also looking at helping our existing neighborhoods here, especially in the city, that have walkability,” Heegan said.
The idea of cottage courts or “pocket neighborhoods” is to block several houses together with shared parking and a common space or courtyard for neighbors to gather. The goal is to create community by design, so neighbors can more easily interact and have outdoor space to use in communal ways.
Especially near Uptown, City Manager Julie Wilkie said it’s a concept with some appeal in places that are already run down and have had little investment.
“If you’re downtown and you step several blocks just off the downtown — typically your older housing stock is closer to the city center,” Wilkie said. “I know the city is if not 50% rental property it may be over 50% rental property.”
If the city can buy property and explore the available housing options to find what might work best on that land, she said cottage courts could be a way to create housing clusters within walking distance of Uptown amenities.
“It’s not gentrification, but revitalization,” she said, “and put some housing in there that’s attainable and people can be proud of. We can sort of start rejuvenating our neighborhoods one pocket at a time.”
Although cottage courts rely on a density of housing that’s easier to plan for in the city, County Manager Toby Chappell said new approaches to housing have been part of the county’s plan for economic development for years.
“We can spend all the money we want to spend recruiting industries, but if we can’t produce workers, housing, transport them, et cetera, we’re not going to be successful,” he said.
Jim Medford, chairman of the Chamber’s workforce development task force, said Greenwood County had about 2,000 unfilled jobs about seven months ago. Now it’s down to about 1,300, but he said fixing the workforce takes having houses for those workers. A variety of housing is essential, he said.
“Because we have needs from a workforce standpoint from professors at Lander to senior managers, to middle managers, all the way down to the associate level, that requires different price points and different styles of housing,” he said.
As the chamber works to address child care needs, offer more transportation options and retain existing workers, he said staff is also working to promote Greenwood as a community for people leaving areas like Upstate New York or central Illinois.
People are leaving more populated areas of the country and looking for simpler lives in the Southeast, Medford said. Heegan added that many Baby Boomer retirees are looking to start businesses in the region. People feel drained by two years of COVID-19 restrictions and are eager to get outdoors and reconnect with their neighbors.
“We have a plethora of all that to share right here in Greenwood, along with the friendliness of this community, which I think positions us very well to be a healthy community,” Heegan said.