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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 Growing Shortage Of Lowest-Cost Housing, More Homeless

Mecklenburg County's affordable housing crisis is worsening, especially for people of color and at the lowest income levels, according to a new study of homelessness and housing instability. 

You don't really need a study to know that affordable housing is in short supply in the Charlotte region. But the annual Charlotte-Mecklenburg State of Housing report puts new numbers on the problem. 

"We saw that access to affordable housing continues to be a challenge for many households at the lowest income level," said Bridget Anderson of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, who wrote the report for Mecklenburg County. 

By lowest, she means households earning 30% or less of the area median income, or about $26,000 a year for a family of four.  Census figures show that 32,364 households in the county were below that line in 2017, the latest year for which numbers available. But only 5,342 low-priced units were available, said Anderson. 

Key findings in the report include: More than half of people of color are housing cost burdened, there's a big gap in units for those making less than 30 percent of the area median income,  and evictions are on the rise.
Credit Mecklenburg County
Key findings in the report include: More than half of people of color are housing cost burdened, there's a big gap in units for those making less than 30% of the area median income, and evictions are on the rise.

"And what's more, only about half of those units that are out there are being rented by people at that lowest income bracket," Anderson said. "So about half of units that are available are being rented by people who can actually afford to pay more, which just further makes housing scarce for those at the lowest income bracket."

Other key findings:  

  • The number of homeless people in the region is more than 2,100, according to a new count using a county system that for the first time tracks them by name. Last year, a one-day count in January found 1,700.  
  • Eviction filings were up 12 percent over the past year, the third straight year increase.  
  • More than half of both African American and Latino households are cost burdened, defined as spending more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing
  • And the overall number of cost-burdened households continues to rise, thanks to unemployment and low wages coupled with rising rents.  From 2005 to 2017 in the Charlotte area, median household income grew by just 4 percent, while the median rent rose 18 percent, according to the report.

The 2019 report comes amid a campaign that has raised more than $100 million in public and private housing funds, along with pledges of low-cost loans and other support. 
"What stood out to me is in spite of the fact that our community has had a laser like focus on affordable housing recently the problems are still growing," said Carol Hardison, the CEO of Crisis Assistance Ministry, which provides emergency financial help for housing expenses. 

Hardison said the loss of existing affordable housing - "naturally occurring affordable housing, or NOAH" - is a major factor in the worsening situation. 

"We have apartments out there that are affordable, but they're rapidly being lost and being torn down or being taken over. So what we see at Crisis Assistance Ministry are people who suddenly had their apartment complex taken over, or sudden rent increases - $200 rent increases overnight. And so there's sort of a hidden crisis that's taking place within these apartment complexes," Hardison said.

That's what's happening right now at the 288-unit Lake Arbor Apartments on Charlotte's west side, where rents have ranged from the $500s to $900s. The owners have ordered tenants out by the end of the year, or sooner.  They're flooding a housing market that already has a shortage of units.  

The full report is online at MecklenburgHousingData.org

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.