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Charlotte Area

Charlotte Has Affordable Housing Shortage Of 15,000 Units, Study Says

The recession and a trend toward gentrification in Charlotte have caused a shortage of rental housing that's affordable to low-income households. Meanwhile a new study commissioned by the city finds plenty of housing for middle-income earners.

The city of Charlotte only has so much money to spend building - or encouraging developers to build - affordable housing.

So the study released Monday gave Mayor Anthony Foxx some clarity: "From a bang for the buck standpoint, it looks like the 30% or below is where we get the bang for the buck."

"30% or below" refers to households making less than $15,600 a year, which is 30% of the median income in Charlotte. An affordable apartment for those families costs less than $400 a month.

"Affordable" is a relative term. But when governments talk "affordable housing" there's a clear rule of thumb - households should not spend more than a third of their income on rent.

The last time housing affordability was analyzed in Charlotte was before the recession and it mainly just looked at the needs of the lowest earners. Since then, some council members have argued the city should do more to help working families whom the recession hit hard.

But it turns out those mid-range folks have plenty of rental options.  The new study says there's a surplus of about 16000 apartments affordable to them. Researcher Todd Noell says it really is the lowest earners in the most trouble. He says there are only about 5,500 affordable housing units for some 21,000 families that need them.

Some of those families are living on the street or doubled up with family or friends. Noell says many are just renting apartments that according to that "affordable" rule of thumb are more than they can afford. 

"By the way we saw a loss of about 10,000 units in the last decade that were affordable to that group," adds Noell.  

The loss was likely a combination of gentrification, where once low-income neighborhoods have become trendy (think South End or NoDa) and the city's encouragement of demolishing old housing projects to be replaced by complexes that attract a mix of incomes.

"We created the problem," says Councilman Michael Barnes.

And now the city council is looking to solve it. They meet Wednesday at noon to discuss options, such as giving incentives to landlords who agree to keep rent cheap.