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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.

Finding Home: New Brookhill Developers Seek Public And Private Funds

An architect's drawing of the proposed 324-unit New Brookhill complex. About half the units would be for people with lower-incomes.
New Brookhill
An architect's drawing of the proposed 324-unit New Brookhill complex. About half the units would be for people with lower-incomes.

Developers planning to redevelop Brookhill Village off South Tryon Street are seeking nearly $20 million in public and private support for the project, which would include both affordable and market-rate apartments. The Charlotte City Council will get a briefing Monday and could vote later this month on the request, which would end years of uncertainty about the future of the community.

Brookhill Village has about 300 units at South Tryon Street and Remount Road in Charlotte.  About 142 are still occupied, while others are boarded up.
Credit NewBrookhill.com
Brookhill Village has about 300 units at South Tryon Street and Remount Road in Charlotte. About 142 are still occupied, while others are boarded up.

Brookhill Village is an aging complex about 2½ miles from uptown Charlotte, near the Blue Line light rail and the shiny new apartment towers of the South End. Brookhill was built as workforce housing in 1950, but the area has been an African American neighborhood since the 1930s.

There's a lot of history here, but it's threatened, said Ray McKinnon. 

"Brookhill is more than buildings, right? It's a rich community, where you sometimes have generations of people who live there - some folks by necessity, but folks by choice," he said. 

McKinnon is a Methodist church pastor who also chairs a related nonprofit group that has been trying to help engineer a redevelopment for four years. He's also a former candidate for county commission.

It's been frustratingly complicated, he said.

Rev. Ray McKinnon
Rev. Ray McKinnon

The land and buildings have separate owners. And there was so much crime here at one point that the U.S. Attorney's Office threatened to seize part of the complex. But McKinnon has high hopes for the new plan.  

"I think this is the third or fourth iteration, third or fourth try. And this is the farthest we've gone. This is the one that's the most promising, and I think the one that is the most feasible and workable. And the one that I'm most proud about, frankly," McKinnon said.  

Preserving Affordable Housing And Community

McKinnon says the challenge for a developer is how to preserve the community — and affordability. Rents here are some of the lowest in Charlotte — $500 or less for a two-bedroom apartment.  

Tom Hendrickson thinks it can be done with financial help from the city. He leads a development group that wants to build what he's calling "New Brookhill" on 16 of the complex's 37 acres.  A mixed-use development on the rest of the property would come later. 

Tom Hendrickson
Tom Hendrickson

"We are bringing forward a proposal to revitalize Brookhill Village, starting with a mixed-income residential project that would have 324 residential units," Hendrickson said last week. 

About half of the units would be affordable, aimed at people making between 30% and 60% of the area median income, about $24,000 to $47,000 a year for a family of four. Rents would run between about $450 and $1,100 a month.

Current residents would get first dibs. 

Sixty-five units would be for people making 30% of the area median income, or AMI, renting for 488 dollars a month. Ninety-seven would be for those making less than 60% of the AMI, with rents from about $820-$1,132. Two would be for people below 80% of AMI, at 1300 dollars a month. 

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Seeking City And Private Aid

But Hendrickson says the $65 million dollar project - and the promised 164 affordable units - can't be built without financial help.

He says the project does not qualify for federal low-income tax credits. That's because of the unusual separate ownership of the land and buildings. So, he's seeking $19.8 million in loans and city infrastructure improvements. He also wants to build 160 market-rate units with rents of $1,500-$,2700 a month that would help subsidize costs. Hendrickson thinks that's a selling point for the subsidies. 

"Part of what we're doing here is the market-rate units really help provide the support to help make it a … One, it makes it a complete community, with diverse income points, and I think a better long-term community and I believe a better model," Hendrickson said. 

Hendrickson is asking City Council to approve a $4.5 million loan from the Charlotte Housing Trust Fund, which is funded by $50 million in housing bonds approved by voters. He also wants a city grant of about $5.3 million for street improvements and site work. And he is asking for a $10 million low-interest loan from the private Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund, which is managed by Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC. 

Without the financial help, Hendrickson said he doesn't see a way to redevelop Brookhill with  affordable housing.

"We'll have to then turn to the community to help find housing for the 279 or so current residents, including about 86 children. That's heart-breaking and it is an absolute nightmare scenario," he said. 

That's a not-so-veiled warning to the public and private decision-makers who hold the purse-strings here.

City housing director Pamela Wideman will present the Housing Trust Fund request to the City Council Monday, and the council could vote on it April 27.  Both Wideman and Raphine Caldwell of LISC said they would not comment before Monday’s council meeting.

Hendrickson says he has $43 million in private financing lined up to cover the rest of the $65 million cost. If local leaders approve the public and private loans, he says demolition could begin this fall and the first uits could be ready in 2021. 

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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.