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City Shifting Tactics On Affordable Housing

Charlotte city leaders are on the verge of making a significant shift in how they approach affordable housing. The mayor and city council met for a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss changes that have some low-income advocates worried. For 10 years, the city has funneled voter-approved bond money into a special fund for affordable housing. Some $80 million have gone toward subsidized housing projects - mostly north and west of Uptown Charlotte. But that fund is nearly empty now and Mayor Anthony Foxx thinks building new affordable housing may no longer be the answer it was before the recession. "We're now in a market where new construction may be infinitely more expensive for us to address the problem of affordable housing than just trying to rehabilitate existing units and get people into the units that are already there and get apartment buildings full-leased up and that sort of thing," said Foxx. A shift toward rehabilitating complexes and offering rent subsidies will also require the city to find new sources of funding, since bond money can only be used for construction. Urban Ministry Center Executive Director Dale Mullinex says fixing up existing complexes won't be enough to prevent and end homelessness - which has been a key focus of the city's housing funds in recent years. "You can't rehab enough - and there is a segment of our population - like the folks who live at Moore Place who need very specialized housing," says Mullinex. "That building is designed uniquely for that population and the services they need. So if we're saying we're gonna go to all rehab then we're saying we're no longer gonna serve that population." Moore Place is the newest of several city-subsidized developments to offer housing and extensive social services people with disabilities and those who are chronically homeless. Councilman Michael Barnes believes the pendulum of city support has shifted too far toward such projects. He's keen to see more affordable housing funds spent on homes and apartments for working families struggling to get by on $40,000 or $50,000 a year. "The issue is, are you leaving out the people who need a little help and could be self-sufficient if they got that little bit of help?" says Barnes. Homeless advocates argue Charlotte has plenty of housing within reach of that population, but they won't be sure until September. That's when the city expects to finish a database that will show the going rate for rental properties around the city - and, hopefully, shed some light on where government subsidies could help most.