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Some Voters Not Sure Housing Bond Enough To Ease Affordable Housing Crunch

Chris Kizzie of Enterprise Community Advisors (right) and Pamela Wideman of the city's Housing and Neighborhood Services department gave a presentation on affordable housing to the city council Monday.
David Boraks
Pamela Wideman, left, of the city's Housing and Neighborhood Services department during a presentation on affordable housing to the city council.

Charlotte residents will vote today on a $50 million bond referendum designed to ease the city’s affordable housing shortage. The affordable housing supply is about 34,000 units short of what city officials say is needed. Some say the referendum is a good start. Others say it will barely make a dent in creating less expensive housing.

The bond money would go into the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which provides gap funding to developers who want to build affordable housing units or renovate existing complexes. Lucas Flint says if the bond referendum passes, he would like to see the money spent this way.

“I certainly hope it goes to more mixed market rate and affordable housing, putting different demographics and income levels of people together to help unify the city,” Flint said. “I think it’s a good start but certainly hope there is more on the way soon.”

Even so, Flint says he cast his ballot during early voting and voted for the $50 million housing bond.

The housing bond is put before voters every two years. This year’s bond is more than triple the amount city officials asked voters to approve in past years. But like Flint, Erica Franklin says it’s not enough to make a big difference because the need is so great.

“Some of my family members, friends I know are on the streets,” Franklin said. “I know friends of friends living from house to house, hotels trying to find the best place to live. It breaks my heart because a lot of people can’t afford places to live and then they might get fired from their job at any [moment].”

Franklin is a working mother of seven, living in Section 8 housing. She has specific ideas of how she thinks the bond money should be spent.

“Put it toward low-income housing for people less fortunate who have jobs that pay low wages. Basically, do more construction and build more housing for people in the Grilltown area and parts of Beatties Ford Road,” Franklin said.

That was the sentiment of many people asked about the housing bond money. But Pamela Wideman, the city’s housing and neighborhood services director, says the trust fund money is not used for construction. It is given to developers who are short of what they need to build or renovate affordable housing projects. Wideman says older, multi-family rental complexes are the largest supply of affordable housing in the city. They are often torn down to make way for high-end developments.

“We will have funding with this increased amount to help developers acquire those properties, rehab those in exchange for long-term deeds restrictions on those properties so they will continue to remain as affordable housing,” Wideman said.

According to Wideman, most of their contracts with developers require the affordable housing units to remain affordable for 30 years or more. She says if the bond passes, she’s not sure how many affordable units can be created or when.

“It is going to take us some time to get new units on the ground as a result of the 2018 election, but there are some developments that were funded with the 2016 bonds that are coming online now,” Wideman said.

Wideman pointed to developments under construction in the Cherry community and along Beatties Ford Road.

Since 2001, Wideman says $124 million in Housing Trust Fund bond money has been spent to create more than 7,000 affordable housing units. About 3,000 of those are occupied by low-income residents. That total number also includes a few hundred shelter beds.

The city’s private sector partners are trying to raise funds to match the $50 million bond. Wideman says $100 million would be a major increase for the affordable housing trust, but still not enough to adequately address Charlotte’s affordable housing needs. She says it is, however, a step in the right direction.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.