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City Approves Framework For Building New Affordable Housing

Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center
Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center.

The Charlotte City Council unanimously approved Monday a framework for how the city would build affordable housing, a little more than two months before voters will be asked to approve a $50 million housing bond.

Affordable housing has become the council's top priority as developers have built thousands of new apartments, many of them far too expensive for people earning $15 or $20 an hour. The city and consultants have estimated Charlotte has a shortfall of 24,000 affordable apartment units.

Two consultants have told the city that Charlotte's biggest need is for people earning 30 percent of the area median income. That's about $21,000 for a family of four.

But in recent years, the city has often focused on building "workforce housing," which is aimed at people earning 60 percent or more of the area median income.

Now, the new housing framework calls for the city to focus on building housing for people earning 60 percent or less of the area median income. That's about $41,000 for a family of four.

The framework will require that any apartment complex that receives money from the $50 million bond have at least 20 percent of the units set aside for people earning 30 percent or below of area median income.

But the framework has not set a goal of how many apartments or houses will be for the city's poorest residents, and it does not require the city to spend a certain percent of the $50 million on very low-income housing.

"We want you to prioritize housing for the lowest incomes," said Deronda Metz of the Salvation Army, who supported the framework. "That's what we see. That's where the most need is."

The framework also calls for the city to create a fund to help nonprofit developers buy what's known as "naturally affordable housing" — apartment complexes from the 1960s and 1970s. In some cases, those complexes have been bought by investors who have renovated them and then raised rents.

For the first time, it will allow the city to use Housing Trust Fund money to buy older apartment complexes to preserve them as affordable.

Julie Porter of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, praised the framework as "ambitious and innovative." She has lobbied the city to focus on preserving older apartment complexes.

The framework also calls for the city to try and shift people into home ownership.

The city has said home values have increased by 36 percent and rents have increased by 24 percent since 1990. The median household income has risen by only 4 percent, according to the city.

Earlier this year, Mayor Vi Lyles asked council members to support a $50 million housing bond instead of the $15 million bond that the city has usually asked voters to approve every two years. Council members and City Manager Marcus Jones supported that request.

"We didn't want to just ask for $50 million and have no plan for it," at-large council member Braxton Winston said.

Council members praised themselves for creating the framework. Tariq Bokhari said it was a "masterful" document.