Charlotte Area Fund will steward a $1.1 million grant from IKEA US Community Foundation to help North Carolinians facing financial hardships worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The organization, which is designated as Mecklenburg County’s community action agency, announced the news during a virtual media conference Wednesday.
Charlotte Area Fund President and CEO Nicholas Wharton said he was notified in August by Gov. Roy Cooper’s office that the agency was selected to receive the $1.1 million in unrestricted funds. Charlotte Area Fund will continue providing job training and a range of support services virtually, but the funding will go toward the most critical needs.
“Right now, one of the important necessities folks are having is rental assistance and utilities,” Wharton said. “We’re helping families stay in their homes.”
Charlotte was facing a housing crisis before the pandemic. According to Mecklenburg County’s recently released State of Housing Instability & Homelessness Report, 81,611 renter households were spending more than 30% of their income on housing-related expenses. With fewer resources to dedicate to other expenses, and the latest unemployment data revealing that 45,715 people in Mecklenburg County were unemployed in August, cost-burdened households are one crisis away from losing housing.
“There are enormous challenges that are happening across the state, and community action directors are at the frontline of the most desperate needs of folks living on the margins,” Wharton told viewers during the meeting.
According to Gov. Cooper’s press secretary, the retail furniture giant reached out to the governor’s office in June about reimbursing the state for unemployment benefits given to its U.S. employees while they were furloughed due to the pandemic. Ikea Charlotte is the chain’s only store in North Carolina.
“People are the heart of our business, and the state unemployment benefits helped IKEA US co-workers during a difficult time,” Javier Quiñones, IKEA Retail U.S. president, said in a statement. “We now have a better understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on our business, and we’ve decided to ‘pay it forward’ to support the ongoing relief efforts in our local communities.”
David Bradley, CEO and co-founder of the National Community Action Foundation, called it “perhaps one of the most significant public-private partnerships I’ve seen.”