Charlotte desperately needs more affordable housing. But where should it be located?
Charlotte City Council tried to answer that question in 2011 with its Housing Locational Policy. Now, its holding community meetings to hear your thoughts on where to locate affordable, multi-family housing developments.
As an affordable housing advocate in our region for nearly two decades, here’s my take: We don’t need revisions to the present policy. We need an entirely new one.
By starting over, we can create guidelines that help us preserve existing affordable housing. These guidelines can create new housing close to job centers and along public transportation. Charlotte’s housing policy must take transit and job opportunities into account, or it will be meaningless to the people it’s intended to benefit.
How We Got Here
The current policy was passed during Mayor Anthony Foxx’s administration to help spread affordable housing throughout the city, rather than concentrating it in East and West Charlotte. Though well-intended, the policy didn’t fulfill its promise for several reasons.
Some residents living in affordable housing who depended on bus service ended up having to ride a bus uptown and transfer to another bus to get to work. It was difficult, time-consuming, and often unsustainable.
The policy also didn’t encourage more affordable housing at the pace we needed it. Charlotte’s popularity has led to rapid gentrification. Look at the number of affordable apartment complexes that are being demolished or rehabbed, pricing current residents out of their homes.
A related issue is the lack of starter homes in Charlotte, a deficit that accelerated under the Housing Locational Policy. After the 2008 stock market crash, investors realized they could buy affordable housing here for bargain-basement prices. Hundreds of homes were turned into rentals, which eliminated the ability for renters to buy affordable homes priced in the $100,000s.
We see the effects of all this today in Cherry, a historically African-American neighborhood near Myers Park where roughly two-thirds of the past housing has been demolished, with new homes starting in the $300,000s and up.
In Grier Heights, investors and absentee landlords own many homes, making it difficult to redevelop with new affordable housing. In Villa Heights and Belmont, we see developers buying older homes and building McMansions. Those pressures will continue as more people want to live close to the center city.
What’s The Fix?
Under the policy, “affordable housing” means housing that two people could afford on a household income of about $47,000 a year. That household earns less than 80 percent of Charlotte’s area median income, or AMI. We also have a more serious shortage of housing for households at 50 percent AMI, and even more for households at 30 percent AMI. In all, we need upwards of 24,000 affordable places for people to live.
Many folks with lower incomes can’t pay for housing and other needs if they have to spend an outsized portion of their paycheck for transportation. Even if our hotel, restaurant, nursing, childcare, and other service workers find cheaper housing outside of Charlotte, their budgets can be unworkable if they have to buy a car and pay for vehicle maintenance, gas, and perhaps, parking.
We’ve already missed an opportunity to set aside land for affordable housing along some sections of the light rail. As we continue to expand the light rail, let’s not make the same mistake. We need a locational policy that promotes buying land along those corridors and bus lines.
The good news is we have an opportunity to vote in November on a $50 million housing bond. City Council has passed a new framework for how that money might be spent. It includes the idea of a city fund to purchase land as well as another fund to help nonprofit developers acquire existing affordable properties and keep them affordable. The city will also be able to purchase some affordable properties outright.
In my opinion, if an affordable apartment building is rehabbed and the rent raised, then the city must offer some assistance to help residents stay or make a transition to somewhere else they can afford. Keep in mind it can cost up to $3,000 just to move from one rental to another, given the need for a rental deposit, utilities deposits, moving expenses and other costs.
When Council has to approve waivers to its own policy to get affordable housing built, something is seriously wrong. A new locational policy for affordable housing can be a valuable tool to improve the city we love. Now it’s your turn to call for that policy and vote for the housing bond in November.
Floyd Davis Jr. is president and CEO of Community Link, a Charlotte nonprofit that enables individuals and families to obtain and sustain safe, decent and affordable housing. Reach him at email@example.com.