A Charleston homeless center embroiled in controversy earlier this year may soon have a permanent home.
The Outreach Hub, formerly known as the Navigation Center and now known as the HOPE Center, is located at 529 Meeting St. and is rented monthly. City Council unanimously approved a one-year lease extension for the property on May 24.
After the lease expires, Charleston officials plan to move the facility to a group of lots the city already has between 3 and 9 Cunnington Ave. in the Neck area. The city bought the lots in late 2021 for $1.4 million.
529 Meeting’s new lease expires in June 2023, by which time the city hopes to have the HOPE Center in Cunnington operational. If it’s not finished, the city will sign another monthly lease.
The design process is underway, but the full scope of the project and its cost have not yet been calculated, said Geona Shaw Johnson, director of the Charleston Housing and Community Development Department.
The HOPE Center needs a new permanent location because the owner of 529 Meeting said he plans to redevelop the property, Shaw Johnson said. The owner has leased the property to the City of Charleston for $1 per year since 2018.
“This could be the last extension we get,” Shaw Johnson said. “That’s why the focus is on building a permanent center on Cunnington.”
The lots at 3 through 9 Cunnington are adjacent to an office building at 11 Cunnington that the city tried to buy earlier this year to house the outreach center. Officials originally hoped to build affordable housing at 3 through 9 Cunnington and the homeless center at 11 Cunnington.
The decision to purchase 11 Cunnington was quashed in March after Councilor Keith Waring expressed concerns that the property was overvalued and that Mayor John Tecklenburg should have withdrawn from discussions about the purchase.
Waring pointed out that the mayor’s son, Joseph Tecklenburg, works with the office building’s owners, real estate firm Clement, Crawford & Thornhill Inc.
Because the building’s owners, Robert Clement III and Stuart Coleman, purchased the building under an LLC as a personal investment property, Tecklenburg’s son would not benefit financially from its sale. As a result, the city’s legal counsel said the mayor’s involvement in the proposal did not pose a conflict of interest.
After an initial discussion in February, the mayor abstained on a vote to buy 11 Cunnington in March. Although he is not required by law to do so, he said discussing his son was a “distraction”.
Two appraisals of the property came in at $1.3 million and $1.6 million. The Neck Area office building is a former crematorium almost surrounded by a cemetery.
During the March meeting, some council members said the proposal was not an efficient use of funds specifically raised for homeless services. Proponents of the idea said it was the best deal the city would get on the peninsula. The deal fell through and the council voted against buying 11 Cunnington.
Now, with the City Council’s May 24 actions, the city plans to consolidate the affordable housing development and homeless center on Cunnington Ave. 3 to 9 to place. The City Council also approved a zoning for these lots to allow for higher density development that will accommodate both housing and the advisory center.
“The last time we talked about this… someone said we should maximize our density to maximize affordability. That’s what we’re doing here,” said Tecklenburg.
The HOPE Center provides a space for nonprofit organizations to gather and provide services to Charleston’s homeless community. One group, ShelterNet, provides copies of financial assistance applications to nonprofits stationed at the outreach center, said Reagan Smith, counselor for ShelterNet’s community outreach. ShelterNet provides assistance with rent and utility payments to those in need.
“There’s a really big need for resources like case management and financial support all over downtown toward North Charleston and in the general North Charleston area,” Smith said. “Having all these nonprofits connected in one place is really handy.”
Reach Emma Walen at 843-708-5837. Follow her on Twitter @_emma_whalen.