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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: Heal Charlotte Plans To Buy Hotel For Transitional Housing Campus

Greg Jackson runs the group Heal Charlotte, which wants to buy a hotel off I-85 for a transitional housing campus.
David Boraks
Greg Jackson runs the group Heal Charlotte, which wants to buy a hotel off I-85 for a transitional housing campus.

The group Heal Charlotte was founded after the police shooting of Keith Scott in 2016 to improve police-community relations. This year, it's been helping people with food and housing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the group has an ambitious plan to buy a hotel to help solve the city's affordable housing crisis. 

Finding Home

Heal Charlotte started as a youth development program based at the Orchard Trace neighborhood in northeast Charlotte. But a couple of years ago, founder Greg Jackson realized an even greater need nearby, at weekly-rate hotels off Interstate 85. He said it kept him up at night. 

"It really consumed me," Jackson said. "I have some children that are part of my program that actually live in those hotels. So it really became a personal mission to me to, to provide a safe environment for the children that are inside of these hotels."

Around that time, Heal Charlotte began providing rental assistance to help families in apartments and hotels avoid eviction. More recently, the group has contracted for 20 rooms at one of those hotels, to house families at risk of homelessness amid the coronavirus pandemic. All the while, Jackson has wondered: Could we buy a hotel of our own? 

An architect's drawing envisions Heal Charlotte's transitional campus, off I-85.
Credit Heal Charlotte/LS3P
An architect's drawing envisions a community cafe at Heal Charlotte's transitional campus, off I-85.

Advisers and potential donors told him yes. So last month, Heal Charlotte launched a $10 million fundraising campaign to buy a hotel and turn it into a transitional housing campus.  

"We can provide true affordable housing for low-income families, two-parent homes that do not want to be split up by the shelter system," Jackson said. "And we can also turn these management offices into a youth development center-slash-café."

Transitional Housing Campus  

That café would be not only a social hub, but also an employer and source of revenue. Jackson says it would be modeled after Community Matters Café in Charlotte's Third Ward. That's run by Charlotte Rescue Mission to train people recovering from substance abuse. The 2- to 3-acre campus also would have a playground and sports fields. 

Heal Charlotte's transitional campus would include housing, a community center/cafe and sports fields.
Credit Heal Charlotte/LS3P
Heal Charlotte's transitional campus would include housing, a community center/cafe and sports fields.

Monthly rents at hotels like these can be $1,500 or more. Jackson's vision is for something well under half that. His target tenants are people earning less than 45% of the area median income, or about $35,000 a year for a family of four. 

"So essentially, we would have 120 rooms, all allocated to these families at a rent that is about $575 a month. We're trying to stay under $600," he said.  

Jackson said he's in discussions with a couple of hotels in the I-85/Sugar Creek area that are on the market. The purchase and renovations would cost about $6.5 million. They're also hoping to raise another $3.5 million in operating support and to pay for training, counseling and other services for families in transition.  

A Big Fundraising Goal

Heal Charlotte's annual budget right now is only about $250,000, says Jackson, and $10 million sounds like a lot. But other recent affordable housing deals have been larger. Last week, nonprofit Roof Above announced a $50 million deal to buy a 341-unit apartment complex for affordable housing in east Charlotte. 

Heal Charlotte has mapped out a concrete plan with the help of local investors, philanthropists and advisers like Shanté Williams, a Charlotte venture capitalist and chair of Heal Charlotte's board. 

She doesn't call the project ambitious. To her, it's "very attainable." 

Shante Williams, a venture capitalist and chair of Heal Charlotte's Board
Shante Williams, a venture capitalist and chair of Heal Charlotte's Board

"If you look at our track record and see how year on year we have grown, doubling every single year as an organization from a financial standpoint, from an impact standpoint," Williams said. "Look at our results, and those results speak for themselves." 

Williams said Heal Charlotte is preventing evictions, housing and feeding families, and helping people gain stability. This project would only further that, she said.  

To pull it off, Heal Charlotte seeks three types of funding: donations from individuals and charitable groups; public and private loans; and - this is different - investments from people who want to become part-owners and earn a profit.

Jackson said he's talking to local professional athletes and other potential investors. A prospectuscirculating now seeks commitments of at least $250,000.    

Social Impact With a Return 

Meanwhile, Williams says income from room rents and other sources eventually could pay back investors and wean the organization off grants.  

"This campus will also be able to generate revenue on its own, through its community café, through the renting of some of the recreational facilities to other organizations," Williams said. "So we intend to break the cycle of dependency, if you will, in the nonprofit sector."

Williams calls it social impact with a return on investment. 

Otis Crowder owns a Charlotte construction company and is a frequent donor to nonprofit housing causes, including Heal Charlotte. He has been talking to Jackson for a couple of years about the hotel idea and likes it.

Otis Crowder
Credit Crowder Constructors
Otis Crowder

"This is a big reach for him," Crowder said. "I mean, it's multiples of what his budget has been. Frankly, a lot of it deals with his energy and the people around him and his ability, which is a good ability, to bring groups together. I can tell you, if we think it's going to happen, we will be significant investors." 

To get there, Heal Charlotte needs to keep doing what it has been doing, Williams said.

"Heal Charlotte is what everybody says that they want to see from a community change perspective," she said. "I often hear, 'Well, we need people in the community to work with government or private sector or partner with other organizations.' And Heal Charlotte really embodies that."

Williams said Heal Charlotte's goal is to buy a hotel within six to nine months and have the community café open by the end of next year.  

Note: Shanté Williams has been a member of WFAE's Community Advisory Board since 2019.

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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.