CHARLESTON, S.C.—Joseph P. Riley Jr. is serving an unprecedented ninth term as mayor of this Southern city. He says affordable housing is among the top five priorities in Charleston's overall agenda. Recent statistics show that fewer than half of the city's households can afford to purchase a home at the median sales price, about $210,000 in 2008. The average was $300,878.

One consequence is that residents move away to find affordable options and then spend long hours commuting.

One of the city's programs is the Homeownership Initiative for first-time home buyers. Created in 2002, the program builds the capacity of nonprofit organizations and revitalizes neighborhoods by improving the housing stock. To date, 42 homes have been sold.

All the homes have a 90-year restrictive covenant that protects the city's investment and ensures an inventory of homes to persons earning in the 50 percent to 120 percent income range.

“I learned early on that there is no magic bullet, no sweeping solution,” says Riley. “You have to proceed house by house, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. You have to seek innovative solutions for each situation, and only a combination of public, private, and nonprofit resources can address the problem.”