By Patra Taylor

Even as 2018 roared in like a lion, with record low temperatures and near record snowfall across the Lowcountry, a new era quietly arrived at the Historic Charleston Foundation when Charleston native Winslow W. Hastie took over as the organization’s president and chief executive officer. After a nation-wide search resulting in 85 eager candidates vying for the top spot at one of the nation’s most respected preservation organizations, Mr. Hastie was ultimately selected by the foundation’s board of trustees for the position vacated late last year by retiring Katharine S. “Kitty” Robinson, who served the foundation for 17 years.

“Winslow’s vision, experience in the local preservation movement and passion for the organization and for Charleston and the Lowcountry made him the most qualified for the job,” states HCF Board of Trustees Chairman Park B. Smith, Jr., regarding the board’s decision. For the past 12 years, Mr. Hastie was a member of HCF’s preservation staff, the last three years serving as the organization’s chief preservation officer.

Established in 1947, HCF soon became an outspoken voice for preserving and protecting the architectural, historical and cultural character of Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry. With the monumental growth in tourism during the last three decades and years of population growth that recently resulted in Charleston reclaiming its title as the state’s largest city, Mr. Hastie believes that standing firm in the organization’s decades-long mission will remain a key aspect of HCF’s role in the years ahead, even as the preservation movement continues to evolve.

According to Mr. Hastie, the HCF’s advocacy team meets with developers, architects and neighborhood associations to weigh in on projects and to advise developers on designing projects compatible with the historic fabric of the city and using building materials appropriate to Charleston. “That kind of advocacy is what we call ‘reactive advocacy,’” states Mr. Hastie, who earned a degree in architecture from The University of the South and a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Georgia. “That is constant. That’s our bread and butter, our day-to-day.

“Preservation used to be all about building,” continues Mr. Hastie, who joined the Historic Charleston Foundation in 2006 as the organization’s director of preservation after serving as a preservation specialist with the San Francisco Planning Department. “But in recent years, the needle has definitely shifted. In today’s world, preservation is really about community. Buildings aren’t just sterile objects. Buildings house people, they house lives and they house our community. In a way, our decisions around preservation should be community focused rather than building focused. That’s a natural evolution that has been happening in the industry. So we’ve segued more into this housing attainability side because that’s where we feel the community needs us. We have to evolve with the times and really respond to the needs of the community.”

Mr. Hastie says that housing attainability will definitely be a big issue for HCF in the coming years. “We’ve actually been working on it for a while,” he continues, “but now we plan to do it with more focused attention.”

Housing attainability, not to be confused with “housing affordability” that conjures up visions of Section Eight housing, addresses those lower-to-middle class residents getting squeezed out of living near their work because of skyrocketing property values. “Because the region’s population is exploding, it’s getting harder and harder to buy reasonably priced real estate,” Mr. Hastie says. “It’s a serious economic development problem that’s recognized by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance and others as being a competitiveness issue for a regional economy. We’ve seen this across the region, but it’s clearly more acute on the peninsula.”

Eager to find solutions to this growing local problem, HCF joined forces with the city of Charleston and the Charleston Habitat for Humanity to see if, together, they could have a positive impact on Charleston’s North Central neighborhood. Mr. Hastie points to two rehabilitated freedman’s cottages on Romney Street that allowed the residents to stay in those houses for the foreseeable future. “We’ve put restrictive covenants on the houses to help incentivize the people to stay,” explains Mr. Hastie. “The whole idea is to create an anti-displacement mechanism to help keep the neighborhood stable.”

Mr. Hastie says that the city of Charleston, through its networks, helped vet the candidates and the homes, while HCF provided grants and preservation expertise. “It’s a great partnership and the project has been very rewarding,” he adds.

That was just the beginning. Shortly thereafter, HCF approached the New Israel Reformed Episcopal Church on Simons Street that owned a “problem property” located where Romney Street dead-ends. “We could see there could be some great opportunities to activate that space in a way it could serve not only the church and its programing, but also the community around it,” Mr. Hastie says. “So we partnered with the church to create the Romney Urban Garden. This formerly overgrown site has helped bring the community together and serves as a gathering place for the church and the neighborhood.”

But HCF didn’t stop there. Working with Charleston’s Housing Authority, the Foundation brought a community land trust expert to Charleston. A growing trend across the nation, community land trusts help ensure long-term housing affordability. To do so, the trust acquires land and maintains ownership of it permanently. With prospective homeowners, the trust enters into a long-term, renewable lease instead of a traditional sale. When the homeowner sells, the family earns only a portion of the increased property value. The remainder is kept by the trust, preserving the affordability for future low- to moderate-income families.

A year of exploration and planning resulted in the creation of the Palmetto Community Land Trust, a non-profit organization. Its newly hired executive is expected to start early this year.

“Our inaugural project with the Palmetto Community Land Trust will be West Ashley’s Maryville, a predominately African-American neighborhood,” notes Mr. Hastie. “It consists of simple workers’ housing that reflects the character of the neighborhood. We think this is an exciting new model for producing housing attainability throughout the city of Charleston.”

What else can we expect from HCF in the coming year? The foundation will continue to operate its two museum properties, the Nathaniel Russell House located at 51 Meeting St. and the Aiken Rhett House located at 48 Elizabeth St. HCF will also host its two premier events this spring, the Festival of Houses & Gardens and the Charleston Antiques Show.

“Of course, we’re going to continue operating these museum houses and these events, but I hope in the months and years to come we can get the word out about our mission and why it’s relevant in people’s lives,” Mr. Hastie says. “Our public outreach and education is almost more important now than ever before because we have so many new residents who don’t realize the work that went into preserving what we have here, that it didn’t just happen. Also, I want people to know that our work extends beyond the peninsula of Charleston. We’re doing work throughout the Lowcountry.”

He quickly points to the $50,000 gift HCF made toward the development of the West Ashley Master Plan, the largest planning effort the city has ever undertaken. “We’re not just here reacting, saying ‘no,’ you can’t build there, or ‘no,’ you can’t paint your house a different color. We are putting our resources toward developing a vision for this entire community.”

To find out more about Historic Charleston Foundation and its many projects, please visit www.historiccharleston.org.

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.