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With New Housing Rules, Charlotte Hopes To Ease NIMBYism

The Charlotte City Council's Housing and Neighborhood Development Commitee discussed changes to the city's Housing Locational Policy Wednesday.
Steve Harrison
The Charlotte City Council's Housing and Neighborhood Development Commitee discussed changes to the city's Housing Locational Policy Wednesday.

When the Charlotte City Council tries to build affordable housing, it often runs into a problem that has nothing to do with money or finding the right land.

The problem is intense opposition from neighbors, or NIMBY – Not in My Backyard. Now the city is looking to change its rules to avoid some of those fights.

To make it easier to build affordable housing, Charlotte is considering rewriting its Housing Locational Policy, which says where new subsidized housing can and can’t be built.

The new policy, proposed by city staff Wednesday, would no longer say that some parts of the city as off limits for low-income housing. It would instead create a new scorecard that would rank new developments on whether they are close to job centers, transit and good schools.

The scorecard would also do something else. It would eliminate some heated public votes in which council members have to decide whether to allow housing in areas the city has said are off limits.

“I can’t say, while I would hope, I can’t say that this scorecard would erase all aspects of NIMBY – we hope to use the scorecard that is more of an objective tool," said Pam Wideman, Charlotte's director of housing and neighborhoods.

Earlier this decade, the city’s priority was to disperse low-income housing to affluent areas like south of Interstate 485.

But as rents have risen, priorities for members of the council have changed. They are focused on building housing quickly – and in large numbers. Location is less of a concern.

The current policy was meant to say some neighborhoods are off limits for new subsidized housing, but it was often ignored.

Since 2011 when the Housing Trust Fund was created, the city council considered 20 waivers to its locational policy.

It approved 19 of them.

“The old policy prescribed permissible and non-permissible areas and said here is where you can’t build unless you get a waiver," Wideman said. "And city council did grant waivers.”

Some new affordable housing projects would still spark heated public debate because some projects would need the council to approve a rezoning.

But if the council approves the changes, separate votes dealing specifically with location would go away.
Council members will ask voters to approve a $50 million housing bond in November – more than triple the usual amount.

The Housing and Neighborhood Development Committee did not take a formal vote on the policy Wednesday, but council members were generally supportive.

Republican council member Tariq Bokhari said the city will have to decide whether it wants a small number of affordable housing units in areas near shops and jobs, or whether it's OK with more units in areas where land is cheaper.