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For two years, WFAE has reported on the Charlotte area's affordable housing crisis through our Finding Home series. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1990, home values have increased 36%, while median household income has gone up only 4%. The appearance of prosperity with new development masks the fact that people are being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Study Finds Need For More Affordable Housing In North Mecklenburg

Houses on South Hill Street in the Smithville neighborhood of Cornelius.
David Boraks
Houses on South Hill Street in the Smithville neighborhood of Cornelius.

A new study of north Mecklenburg County shows a need for more housing aimed at people making less than $40,000 a year. UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute looked at population growth, employment patterns and housing in the towns of Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville.

The study found that about 23 percent of households are considered cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing. That's lower than the county average but still a problem, said Cornelius Town Planner Wayne Herron.

Related Content: Charlotte Companies Announce $70 Million Investment To Meet City's Affordable Housing Crisis

"I think what it's confirming is that we don't have homes in that price range for those folks who make under $40,000. We need to work harder and work together as a community to see if we can come up with plans that, you know, make that available," Herron said.

The area's population grew from 10,000 in 1990 to about 100,000 today. Many of those moving in are highly educated with higher incomes. But that's putting a squeeze on housing costs — especially for younger families, seniors and those living in historically African American communities such as Pottstown in Huntersville, Smithville in Cornelius and Davidson's west side, according to the study's authors.

The study was unveiled to leaders of the three towns at a meeting Wednesday at Cornelius Town Hall. To Ron Potts, a Smithville neighborhood leader, it only confirmed what he already knew.

"Everything I saw today is consistent with what we've been trying to tell everyone about the Smithville community: It is aging, and people can't afford to live anywhere. That's one of the reasons we don't have any young people here," Potts said.

He said most people in his neighborhood work at fast-food restaurants and other low-wage jobs, which makes paying for housing difficult.  

The housing squeeze extends to both renters and homeowners, according to the study. Nearly three-quarters of the area's housing units are single-family homes. The average home sales price in 2016-17 in north Mecklenburg was $342,885, compared with $289,419 in the county overall.

Apartments are in short supply, and most apartment rents in north Mecklenburg are more than $1,000 a month. Just 22 percent of the area's apartments go for less than $1,000 a month, compared with 33 percent countywide.  

The study found that renters are more likely to be cost-burdened than people who live in their own homes.

Of the three towns, only Davidson has an affordable housing policy and program, and most of the area's subsidized housing units are there. The Urban Institute's Bill McCoy said local leaders and residents told him they'd like to see the other two towns adopt their own policies to ensure affordable housing.

The study was commissioned by Lake Norman Economic Development, which recruits businesses for the three towns.  It followed a similar study for Davidson two years ago.

WFAE is taking a year-long look at this problem through our series, Finding Home. Every Monday in 2019, we’ll have stories that examine the problem, seek solutions, and bring you stories from neighborhoods small and large, both in and outside Charlotte.

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.