SC Housing Trust Fund
Speech to Housing Consortium, August 7, 1996
“The Legislative History of the Housing Trust Fund” ... how many of you here were a part of making that
Well, you know that a more appropriate title for today’s remarks would be, “Do You Believe In Magic?“
or, “The Agony and The Ecstasy”, ; because it was ... magic, agony, ecstasy and somewhat of a
miracle. A miracle which has created safe, decent, affordable housing for over 10,000 of our fellow
citizens since it’s passage June 6, 1992.
The miracle started for us in Charleston some time in early ‘90. We were having a Mayor’s Council on
Homelessness meeting (soon after named Mayors Council On Homelessness AND Affordable Housing).
We were frustrated. We had designed some wonderful new programs at the shelter which had moved
500 people out of the shelter into their own homes (with only 1.2% returning) ... AND had prevented
1200 people from becoming homeless in that one year ... and yet, despite that remarkable success, our
shelter was STILL full. Not only were we full,
we had expanded our space by 65%; and, the first night the addition was opened, it was full.
So, we knew that although we were doing our best - and it was an exceptional best - that as good as we
were doing, we simply could not keep up with the tidal wave of homelessness. Homelessness was a
growth industry and in order to stem the tide of it, we were going to need to get at the source of the
Sometime soon after Hugo, we had done a survey of our shelter guests. It showed us that 64% were
working, but could not find an affordable place to rent on a bus line in Charleston. Combined with the
knowledge that the average person earning minimum wage could afford no more than $250 per month
for rent; AND, knowing that the average rental unit in Charleston was $348, we concluded that the
single largest source of our problem was lack of affordable housing. When that lightbulb went on, we
began looking for ways to build affordable rental housing.
We were stumped though. None of the numbers worked. We could find private and grant sources for
about 1/2 of the costs but that obviously wasn’t enough.
We discovered that federal money was not available to us here in SC because federal programs
required matches from the state; and, South Carolina contributed NO money to affordable housing for
its citizens. Without that federal and state money, creating affordable housing was impossible.
While we were sitting in the meeting, struggling for solutions to a problem we understood all too well,
quiet and unassuming Dan Ligon said, “you know what we need is a housing trust fund”. He read from a
newspaper article about Housing Trust Funds, we listened; and, when he finished, Alan Houghton - a
minister and long time housing and homeless activist said, “Good idea - let’s do it!”. And, so we began!
We knew that in order to pass legislation, we needed to form a statewide coalition, so, we gave birth to
an organization called South Carolina Citizens for Housing. For almost two years, meetings were held
and research was done on what other states were doing and the various funding sources being used to
establish housing trust funds.
Then, enter the SC Legislative Task Force On Homelessness. The Senate and House sometime in ‘91
commissioned a task force of citizens, legislators and agency heads to study homelessness. What a
blessing that was! The Department of Mental Health was host to the group and Dr. Bevalaqua was
Things really started cooking then. Suddenly we had the expertise of not only the key players in
housing in SC (like Bill Ballou, Mary Williams, Hank Pierson), but also those with the political experience
and expertise to take the research we had done and craft legislation. Most importantly, we had Susie
Nickles, then lobbyist for the DMH, to help us navigate the treacherous waters of the legislature.
That’s the skeleton of how the Housing Trust Fund evolved.
Now, I’d like to give you a little of the flavor of the process by reading parts of speeches made before a
variety of subcommittees, clubs, organizations and anyone who would listen across the state as we
fought our way to victory for this Housing Trust Fund.
Our first time up at bat was the House Ways and Means Subcommittee. About 30 of us were in the back
of the room and I had been selected to speak. This was all new territory for most of us. We’d never
been a part of the legislative process.
In other words, we were pretty darned naive. And, most of the legislators were treating us as if we were
“babes in the woods”. We had “hit the hall” and knocked on legislators’ doors, giving our little spiel
about why they should support the Housing Trust Fund Bill... and most of the legislators all but patted us
on the head like cute children.
It was, and still is, very unusual for a group of citizens to come enmass into the halls of their government
to talk over an issue. Legislators are used to dealing with lobbyists, not citizens. So, we were an
anomaly and dealt with, by many, in a condescending way ... initially! That changed as we gathered
votes and momentum. But, I get ahead of myself.
Here we are in the hearing room, earnest and committed. AND, on the other side of the aisle are two of
the most powerful special interest groups in the state, complete with very savvy lobbyist, large state
memberships and huge budgets: The Real Estate and Homebuilders Association. They are against
this bill and prepared to knock us out in this first round.
Here’s part of the speech:
“Two years ago, a group of citizens looked at some facts about SC which we found unacceptable. We
found it unacceptable that 817,000 South Carolinians live in substandard housing. We found it
unacceptable that 64,000 South Carolinians are without bathrooms; that 250,000 have no plumbing;
that 30,000 are homeless ... unacceptable, unacceptable, unacceptable.
We found it tragic that hundreds of thousands of these people WORK; and, that there are hundreds of
thousands of children involved.
We wanted not just to lament and complain about these statistics, we wanted to change them. So, here
we are before you today, a few of the four thousand members of a citizens organization we call South
Carolina Citizens For Housing. Here today as citizens with nothing personal to gain, asking for your
support for the Housing Trust Fund Bill.
A Bill on which we’ve been doing research for almost 2 years. A Bill which contains smart, economically
sound solutions to SC’s housing problems. A Bill which is a win/win for housing AND for economic
development. By that I mean that:
For an increase of 1/25th of 1% in the cost of a home, the Housing Trust Fund will, within 5 years:
- create 800 jobs
- provide 20 million dollars in sales to private industry
- increase income and sales tax by 2 million dollars
- increase local property taxes by $400,000
- and each dollar in the trust fund will leverage $4.
Right now, SC literally throws away millions in federal matching money because we’re the ONLY state in
the country which gives NO money to housing.
So! The bill is a smart investment in our economy. It’s also an investment in our state’s children who will
be better able to learn, grow and contribute if they have safe, sanitary, decent housing. It’s a hand-up,
not a hand-out. This isn’t welfare; this makes housing more affordable and sound.
The Real Estate and Homebuilder lobbies are fighting us on this bill. We can’t fathom why. Both stand
to gain enormously.
They say, “this Bill adds cost to the sale of a home and people won’t buy a house!!”. Now really, for a
1/25th of 1% increase ($40 on a $100,000 home) do they think someone will walk away from a sale?
They haven’t in any other state which has a Housing Trust funded this way.
So, today we appear before you ... David and Goliath. The Real Estate and Homebuilder’s well funded
effort against our citizens, grass roots effort. And, “we the people”, this citizens’ group, needs your
help. We need you to vote for H4606:
-Because it’s the smart thing to do; it’s the fair thing to do; it’s the right and decent thing to do.”
Well, the Realtors and Homebuilders didn’t knock us out with the first punch, but they did succeed in
sending us to another committee (which is kind of like knocking you back 10 spaces on a board game)
... and at that next committee, we were sent to another committee. Which is A way the “powers that be”
keep bills which annoy them, from ever seeing the light of day.
We would have died after that first round had it not been for Susie Nickles. And, we certainly wouldn’t
have made it through all three committees without her. We would have “gone away” never having
known what hit us. You see, the rules of these committees are obscure to all but the most seasoned
We were so confused that often after a committee meeting, we’d turn to one another and say, “What just
happened? Are we still in? Did they kill us? Who’s on first?”
But, Susie steered us through the morass of mumbo jumbo.
Meanwhile, all over the state, SCCH members were writing letters to the Editor, speaking to Church
Groups, Senior Citizen Groups, the Rotary ... you name it, if it was breathing, we’d talk to it! We were
out talking about the Bill and asking people to write their legislators.
One Representative had remarked that if he got four postcards regarding an issue, he considered it a
ground swell of concern. We were making sure the representatives were receiving hundreds of cards
and letters a day.
Here’s an example of one of those speeches made to the women at Converse College on Founder’s
Day, April 21, 1992. In it, you’ll see some changes in our presentation style. Volunteer, F.M. Rinker,
who had a television background, told us to touch hearts and stay away from numbers and statistics.
So, we began trying to touch people. It’s April ‘92 and ...
“Two weeks ago, I was invited by United Methodist Relief to visit the Collins family.
There are five people in the family.
- Mrs. Collins is 57 years old
- she is arthritic and diabetic
- She takes care of her daughter’s three children
(Jocushie 11, Tandra 9 and Sheldon 2)
while her daughter works as a full-time housekeeper and brings home $157 per week
Mrs. Collins met us in the yard of her home and took us through the back door into the kitchen because
the porch had fallen in across the front door and made it impassable.
Once in, I was struck by how neat everything was in the kitchen ... but as I looked more closely, I realized:
- there was no sink in the kitchen
- the Collins’ had no plumbing
Over to my left was a 2 foot high wood burning stove and this was their only source of heat.
- In the winter, Mrs. Collins and the kids go to the woods behind the house and gather wood for
the stove ... which keeps only that one room warm, not the whole house.
- Sometimes it gets so cold that the girls have a hard time concentrating on their homework
- and their little brother Sheldon can’t sleep.
As Mrs. Collins shows us through her house, she stops and points out the bathroom.
- It has no tub, no shower, no sink for the kids to even brush their teeth - It has no toilet.
- In their bathroom sits a blue bucket. That’s it - that’s all.
Mrs. Collins was proud of her well-kept home and that’s why I couldn’t understand why everyone‘s
clothes were scattered throughout the bedrooms.
- then these spoiled eyes saw ... there were, of course, no closets.
The tour ended in the tiny living room. On the bookshelf beside a huge, well-worn Bible, I saw 9 year
old Jacushie’s spelling trophy. I stood and looked at it and I wondered how she had done it.
- I don’t think I could have.
- I wondered how long she could keep it up.
We have 817,000 of our neighbors living in similar circumstance in SC. That’s almost one out of 4 of us.
- Substandard housing. Abhorrent, inhumane conditions.
- If we were living in India that might make sense ... but this is the United States of America.
- We shouldn’t be asking people (people who work; our children) to get their water from a creek.”
And, in that vein it continued. At the end of the speech, the Converse women were asked to sign a
petition and to take 5 minutes and 29 cents to make an impact on the world around them. Boy, did they
respond! We had hundreds of signatures and hundreds of postcards from those fine women.
Meanwhile, several of us were driving every day to Columbia for 14 hour days, five days a week. We’d
get to the state house early and speak with our assigned representatives. We were working the house
initially and there were 140 (???) or so representatives to convince that this bill was worth supporting.
Gilda Cobb Hunter was our staunchest ally and our leader in the house. She was great! She and Susie
Nickles would give us brief descriptions of who we were going to talk with and help us figure out the best
approach to reach them. Lucille Whipper was also an incredible help as was Candy Waites. And all
were cosponsors of the bill with several other representatives.
Generally, working the house was - for me - an unpleasant experience. No, that’s too much of an
understatement. It was an offensive, abrasive, vile, maddening, trying, disturbing Bad with a capital “B”
Although MOST representatives were incredibly nice, attentive and polite, SOME were not!! I said, and
I shouldn’t have, in one speech after it was all over that there were three types of legislators working in
Columbia. The Saints, The Sinners and The Dumber Than Dirt. I shouldn’t have said that, but it WAS
true in my experience. And thank God for the Saints. The genuine statesmen and stateswomen who
got paid $10,000 in ‘92 for an incredibly difficult and thankless job.
Anyway, soon after we began to build support for the bill and were getting close to possibly having it
passed in the house, our trouble started. By that I mean, there was a group of legislators who began
giving some of us a hard time. They’d begin arguing with us as soon as we walked up and introduced
ourselves, some literally telling us how stupid they thought the bill was.
This animosity went on for several weeks ... and then it happened. I, who had been spending
somewhere around 90 hours per week on this effort and was beyond tired ... I who was commuting 4
hours daily on the dullest route in the universe (I-26 from Charleston to Columbia) ...... I, who stayed
silent, when a representative told a group gathered at church that I was “a rich little girl, using my father’
s money in pursuit of my new found religion” (this after having worked 10 years for an average of 20
hours per week on homelessness) ... I, who had bitten my tongue bloody when representatives would
tell me how ignorant I was to be associated with this bill... I got angry at a representative. He was a
very, very good friend to the real estate lobby, who by that time had gotten really worried about our
success and had begun playing hard ball. I don’t even remember what he said (other than I recall early
on he addressed me several times as “little lady” and later as “listen girly”). I can’t even recall what I
said; but, I can see us now, in my minds eye, with a crowd building around us as the volume of our
voices increased. Long story short, the honorable unnamed called me a “liberal, bitch!”
I remember charging out of the state house and screaming to the pigeons until I calmed down.
Because I knew I had blown it. His behavior was inexcusable but that didn’t matter, I was wrong. He had
the vote. He had the power. I could only loose by getting angry. That was a day I should have stayed at
Although that wasn’t a great day, we were having huge success. WE began to learn the art of counting
votes. We knew how many people were with us, how many not and how many undecided. We got
closer and closer each day to knowing that we had the votes to win in the House.
On the day we thought the Bill would come before the House for a vote, I got a call. It was from a woman
who was calling FOR a representative who carried 15 votes with him for the Bill. You see, it works that
way. If you get “so-and-so”, he’s so powerful that he carries 15 people with him.
Anyway, I get this call from the woman who says Honorable So-And-So has asked her to call. And, that
although Honorable So-And-So has agreed previously to vote with us for the Bill, he wants me to know
that he really doesn’t think he can vote for the Bill after all. That he’s having second thoughts. ... And
oh, by the way, if I could see my way clear to helping him reduce his campaign debt with a $10,000
contribution, he’d be lastingly grateful.
Well, let me say upfront that I didn’t contribute $10,000 ... but let me say as well that I did think about it,
and yes, I knew that it would be illegal. I even had an hour long conversation about it with my lawyer,
who told me that given how the representative had covertly, slyly, cunningly stated the buy off, taking
him to court would almost certainly result in his going free.
I thought about how many thousands of people might go without a safe, warm house because of this
man’s immorality ... because at that point there were so many undecided votes that he and his 15 votes
could have killed or passed the bill for all we knew.
I thought about what that $10,000 might buy for tens of thousands of children like Jacushie.
I prayed, sought legal advice and ... called the woman back and told her to tell Honorable So-And-So
that I hoped his conscience would convince him to vote with us. Which he did.
Actually, we won handily in the House; and, then our Senate battle began. It began and ended so
quickly it was incredible. We sailed through the Senate, compared to the House.
We had one serious challenge. There was a Senator, known for being the “Wizard of Rules”. He knew
how to kill us in committee on a technicality and we had gotten word that he was considering doing just
Long story short, this man was being pursued strongly by our opponents the Realtor and Homebuilder
lobbyists. They were on him like white on rice! Everytime we’d try to see him for a conversation, they’d
interrupt and begin their spiel. Finally, he returned our call one night and we spoke to him on the
phone. We asked only that he give this bill the chance to be voted on and asked him not to kill it in
committee. He did just that. Without him, we wouldn’t be here today having this conference. I can’t tell
you his name either. Some of this is a little complicated and a little strange.
These are but some examples of why I hated working the state house. And, it’s funny. So many other
folks who worked on this bill and practically lived at the State House with me, adored the process. I told
someone that I’d rather give birth to a litter of springer spaniels than do it again. And it’s true!
Anyway, you’d think that when we had gotten through the house, and now the senate ... with the help of
a bi-partisan, heavy-hitting team like Isadore Lourie and John Courson ... we’d be done! Or, WE
thought we’d be done anyway.
But then ... I got a call. The Governor was strongly considering vetoing the bill. We hit the circuit with
speeches asking for people’s help in dissuading the governor from vetoing the bill. Here’s an excerpt
from one ...
“Last week, I was watching some old home movies ... most of them took place in Faith, N.C. where I grew
up. How many of you have lived in a small town?
Faith had a population of 500, a drycleaner, soda shop, post office, Esso station and small grocery
store (run by my grandparents).
Literally, everybody knew everybody ... and everybody’s business ... but there was such safety,
friendship, peace in that community. No locks on the doors, no crime at all .... once Boots Peeler’s car
got hit and no one left a note. That crime wave was talked about for a month.
So, why am I telling you about my home town on this occasion ....
Well, I started thinking about some of my friends in Faith ... and it occurred to me that quite a few would
be living in the shelter in this day and time:
- “Big Ray” was deaf and didn’t work - an occasional odd job here and there but surely not enough
to pay the rent at the Bassingers’ where he had a room over the garage.
- And Chuck. Chuck was mentally disabled - or so they call it today. In Faith, they didn’t label
Chuck anything. When his Mom and Dad died, he was given a job sweeping up 3 of the 5 businesses in
Faith and it was enough to pay for a room at Mrs. Stafford’s, the kindergarten teacher.
- When Willie Mae, Big Pete and Little Pete got burned out of their home, they simply moved in
with friends until they were back on their feet.
- And, Willis, the town drunk, with a heart of gold, rented a room at Mrs. Stafford’s but of course
didn’t pay the rent himself. The local Jaycees took care of it.
We were a community. A community of neighbors who cared about one another, watched out for one
You say but Linda, now is different. First of all, we live in a city, not an idyllic little hamlet.
And there’s more moving around.
People we don’t know, don’t trust.
People who look and think and behave differently.
Well ... yes and no.
Yes, all of that is true AND
Those people, moving into this community called Charleston, or Greenville, or Florence, were some
community’s Big Ray, Chuck, Willie Mae, Big Pete, Little Pete and Willis.
If we knew their story, I bet most of us would act.
But, there are so many people now, you might be thinking. “What can we really do?”
Well, we can re-create that simpler time in this complex world ... we can build community, one step at a
time ... one loving act at a time.
There is something you can do, and you can do it today. It’s something important. In fact, it may be one
of the most far reaching and significant things you’ll ever do. It may be life changing to thousands and
thousands of people in our community of South Carolina.
Today, you can help your neighbors by investing $1.00 in a phone call or a fax to Governor Campbell
asking him to sign into law the Housing Trust Fund Bill.
The HTF Bill increases the cost of a house 1/25th of 1 %, takes that money and puts it into a statewide
pool, and then cities, towns and counties all over SC can apply for that money to help build affordable
housing for the working poor, disabled and homeless. The HTF is the single most important step this
state has ever taken in creating a loving community where all our children have the basics and a fair
shot at life.
The Governor’s telephone # is: 803.734.9818. His fax # is 734.1843. Your call will make a difference.
Calls and letters are the only reason this Bill passed the House by a 74 - 26 vote and the Senate a 28
We can’t let it die so close to victory. We CAN make a difference. Citizens caring, citizens acting.
The lobbyist and politicians told us, “you’ll never get this bill out of the sub-committee of Ways and
And, when we did that they said, “you’ll never get this bill out of the full Ways and Means”. When our
letters and calls did that, they said, “you’ll never get out of the rules committee”, and when we did that ...
they told us we’d never get out of the house ... then the Senate.
Well, here we are and they’re saying, “Governor Campbell will veto the Bill.
And, we’re counting on your phone calls and faxes to prove once again, that “we the people” can make
a difference in our government ... can create a neighborhood in this state - of people caring for people
--- making things happen.
Because as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can
change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
That Margaret Mead quote had become our motto, and/or mantra, early on ... and here we were in the
final days with news that the governor was going to veto. There was huge pressure being applied by
the Real Estate and Homebuilder Lobbies and we were in trouble.
So! I asked a person who shall go unnamed to please get a message to the Governor for me ... and the
message was that I had planned to build a house on my property for $250,000. If Governor Campbell
felt that he needed to veto this bill, I was going to be forced to scratch my plans for the new house and
use that money to buy television time to tell the people of South Carolina what his veto really meant to
them. And, that I had estimated I could buy prime time in three cities which would cover the state with
that money. ... Or, on the other hand, he could sign the bill and take complete credit for this idea which
was not only a “kinder, gentler Carroll Campbell” than his recent press, but also was just the kind of
economic development story he liked.
Less than an hour later, I got a call from one of the Governor’s chief aids. Among other things he
wanted to know if I was threatening the Governor? I allowed as how, no, it wasn’t a threat, it was a
promise. He didn’t like that.
I told him I wasn’t trying to be smart but that it meant too much to too many struggling people in SC for
us to give up now. And that I wanted to work out a solution to our problem as much as he because I
wanted that new house.
I gave him the full spiel about why it was so important and such a win/win, how very good the governor
would look to a segment of the voting population who were beginning to wonder if he was
compassionate, etc., etc. Then I gave him several names of people he could contact to assure himself
that I was crazy enough to do what I had said and was not just bluffing.
Sixteen hours later, I was “invited” to meet with the governor in Columbia. I went. Long story short, the
governor had been detained when I arrived and I was escorted to a HUMONGOUS room by the same aid
I had spoken to earlier. While we waited, he asked me a prepared set of questions for about 30
minutes, but basically we covered the same ground we had on the phone.
The phone rang. The aide said, “yes sir” and hung up. The aid looked at me, said the governor was
not going to be able to make it back in time to join us and he was terribly sorry. He thanked me for
coming, escorted me out the door and that was it. We were left having no idea whether at the last
minute, the governor would veto the bill.
As we all know now, he signed the bill June 6. We actually knew he was going to sign it several days
earlier when some of us were invited to participate in the signing. I chose not to attend that signing but
Dan Ligon was there, as I think was Gilda; they can tell you all about it. And, Dan saved a signing pen
for me which is proudly displayed in my office.
So there you have the nuts and bolts of how the Housing Trust Fund came to be. I’ll close with an
excerpt from the speech given at the “WE DID IT” party held June 20, 1992 at Bowens Island. A
hundred or so of the people who gave blood, sweat and tears for this bill in the five month legislative
process gathered to rejoice at its passage. We honored one another, us ordinary citizens, and our
legislative champions and leaders: Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Doug McTeer, Candy Waites, Lucille Whipper,
Henry Brown, Tim Rogers, John Scott, Jean Harris, Harriett Keyserling, Robert Barber and Terry Haskins
in the House. In the Senate: Isadore Lourie, Ernie Passailaigue, McKinley Washington, Doug Hinds and
behind the scenes making calls for us, Charleston’s very own Mayor Joe Riley.
“Someone asked me the other day if I felt a let down now that our fight was finished and I answered that
no, I didn’t. I witnessed a miracle. I was part of a miracle. The miracle of the bill’s passage AND the
miracle of the people who made it happen. You, the most unselfish, loving force on this planet,
Margaret Mead’s extraordinary, “ordinary” citizens!
It shouldn’t BE a miracle that an ordinary group of citizens could move a bill through their legislature.
But, as we found out, it is. And it will be until “we the people” reclaim our government. We stand
dangerously close to losing our voice in government and if we do, it won’t be the fault of politicians or
special interest groups ... if we lose our voice it will be because we failed to use it. The system still
works if we work - we just proved that - let’s none of us ever forget that lesson.
Recently, I came across a quote from George Bernard Shaw that reminds me so much of all of you. It
captures the spirit of our group and I can hear the words coming from the mouth of each of you. Please
hear that too as I share a paraphrase of Shaw’s work with you:
“This is the true joy in life;
the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
the being a force of nature
instead of complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community
and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die,
life is no ‘brief candle’ to me.
It is a sort of splendid torch
which I have got hold of for the moment,
and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible
before handing it on to future generations”.
So, you see I hope, the passion and the work that went into this Bill. You see the goodness and the
miracle of it too, I hope.
To protect the integrity, the intent, the heart and soul of this bill, an advisory group was written into the
legislation of the Housing Trust Fund. Its members were originally made up of that old grassroots group
which fought the David and Goliath battles of ‘92.
The Advisory Group makes recommendations to the commissioners of the Housing, Finance and
Development Authority, the staff of which is dedicated to doing the best job possible for the fund.
And, the Advisory Group is the guardian of the dream, making sure that the Housing Trust Fund stays
as simple, un - bureaucratic, and people-focused as possible. Because it is for the people, their hopes
and their future, that we waged this battle and created this miracle. A miracle built by, with and for the
hearts of ordinary citizens. Quite a legacy. Let’s never forget.`