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Housing Advocate: Bonds Give Charlotte New 'Leverage' With Developers

Zuri Berry / WFAE

Charlotte voters Tuesday approved a bond referendum that more-than triples the city’s contribution to a trust fund designed to help developers build or renovate affordable housing. A 2016 study found that Charlotte lacks about 34,000 such units. 

Floyd Davis, Jr. is president of Community Link, an organization that works to help people find and keep safe and affordable housing in Charlotte. Davis spoke with WFAE's Mark Rumsey and said he's delighted with Tuesday's bond approval.

Floyd Davis Jr.: Well, this newly approved money will give this city increase capability. Going from $15 million to invest to help close the gap to make developments affordable to having $50 million to invest is a significant increase that the city will have to leverage these deals.

So, I think it will take a joint effort between the city and developers to help us be able to generate more affordable units. And I think the city — with these additional resources — can do some additional things to encourage developers and make the numbers work, if you will.

Mark Rumsey: So, there's the city government and there are the developers. Are there other players in the community that you see that need to be involved in addressing the affordable housing issue?

Davis Jr.: There are other players in this. As a matter of fact, I'm delighted that the faith community has stepped up to the plate. A number of churches established a committee to figure out, how can we engage in our church and in helping to create the solutions around this problem?

Rumsey: Your organization community link has also been working to get employers involved. Is that right?

Davis Jr.: Absolutely. And we want employers also to become involved because they have to maintain a workforce and our service sector workforce need to have a place to live so that they can conveniently get back and forth to work. And so it's impacting our employers as well. And I'm delighted to say that Red Ventures has stepped up within the last few months. They announced that they are developing housing on their property for their employees.

Rumsey: For many employers, that’s not a realistic option though right?

Davis Jr.: For many employers this is not a real option. However, they can land their support. So, what I think it takes from those employers is for them to come forth to city council and speak as to why this is so important and why this is needed. [They need to] remind people that if they don't have people to wait on you in the restaurant, then they can't serve you. If they don't have people to wait on you in the grocery stores, then they can't serve you. And I think people will then begin to think about this issue differently.

Rumsey: The city is working on towards a goal of adding 5,000 affordable housing units by the end of next year, 2019. And there are more aggressive long term goals about eliminating homelessness in the community that tie into that. Do you think the cities goals in that regard are realistic?

Davis Jr.: I think they are. I think they are realistic. They are necessarily aggressive and they need to be. And I think they are realistic. I mean the problem is a big problem and it's going to take a big effort in order for us to successfully address this issue here and in our community.

Also, the Foundation for the Carolinas have established a fund to raise $50 million to match the $50 million that the city is raising through the approved bond fund.

Rumsey: In some cities, they have turned towards even more aggressive incentives. I guess you could say for developers, for example, giving them certain leeway in their other developments if they are setting aside a certain portion for affordable housing. Is that something that could work or should be done in Charlotte? A zoning approach?

Davis Jr.: We cannot do that in Charlotte because it's not permitted by a state statute. What you're referring to is “inclusionary zoning” and that's not permitted within the state of North Carolina. And so it would take a change in state statutes in order for cities in the state of North Carolina to be able to have that additional leverage, if you will, to encourage the development of affordable housing. So we have to look at things that we can do, short of demanding inclusionary zoning.

Rumsey: Well is that something that community link is advocating for. Do you think it should be?

Davis Jr.: Yes, we are advocating for it. But you know there are some other issues at play in our state that I think you know we have to wait for the timing to be right in order to get the attention and get the state legislature to look at this issue.

Mark Rumsey grew up in Kansas and got his first radio job at age 17 in the town of Abilene, where he announced easy-listening music played from vinyl record albums.