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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: Private-Sector Funds Aid Charlotte's Affordable Housing Push

Charlotte voters are being asked to approve another $50 million in bonds for affordable housing this fall. Those public investments have gotten most of the attention as the city tackles the affordable housing crisis. But Charlotte’s private sector is spending millions of dollars alongside the city to try and reduce the region’s affordable housing shortage.

Finding Home

Over the past two years, big companies and other private donors have committed $53 million to the private Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund, originally set up by the Foundation for the Carolinas.

“The private sector paired with the public sector to be able to leverage funds to be able to build more affordable housing -- it is a model that's being used and looked at in other cities,” said Ralphine Caldwell, executive director of the Charlotte office of LISC, or Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

LISC is managing the private-sector fund.  It's a federally certified community development financial institution that helps not only with housing, but also funds programs to support neighborhoods and businesses. 

LISC operates in 35 cities nationwide and opened its Charlotte office a year and a half ago. The city is paying LISC $600,000 over three years for its help.

Seven Projects In The Pipeline

“We have seven projects that we have committed funds to,” Caldwell said. “And those projects total 952 units, which is a total expended of $15.2 million.”  

Credit LISC
Ralphine Caldwell

Those seven projects are among 28 that got city funding from the $50 million Housing Trust Fund bonds approved by voters two years ago.

Two of those projects funded by the Housing Opportunity fund are under construction: 156 new units at Evoke Living at Westerly Hills in west Charlotte, with $2.9 million from the private fund. And 91 units that are being renovated at Wendover Walk Apartments, off Wendover Road, which is getting $1.3 million.

Five other projects around the city are all close to starting, Caldwell said. 

One project, on Seventh Street uptown, is being developed by Laurel Street, a Charlotte company that often gets both private and city Housing Trust Fund dollars. Most affordable housing can't be built these days without that kind of support. 

Lee Cochran of Laurel Street said the private fund makes that public bond money go farther.  

“By having the funding from the private fund, we don't need near as much money from the public source. So it allows the (public) Housing Trust Fund to serve more projects and build more units,” Cochran said. 

U.S. Bank Joins Private Sector Efforts

The city's large banks -- including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Truist -- have all announced commitments to the private housing fund. Banks and corporations also have promised millions of dollars more in contributions, including grants, land donations and low-interest loans. 

Altogether, private funding totals more than $75 million to date.

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank became the latest to contribute this week, announcing a $4.6 million pledge. Of that:

  • $3.3 million in community development tax credit-generated funds will go to Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte to buy and renovate 28 affordable houses or townhomes.
  • $250,000 from the U.S. Bank Foundation will pay to repair 196 existing units through Habitat’s Critical Repair Program.
  • And the bank is giving LISC $1 million, apart from the private housing fund, to build or preserve affordable housing.

“Knowing them from our work with them in other parts of the country, we are impressed," said U.S. Bank regional executive Dee O’Dell. "We really wanted to support that here in Charlotte.” 
Other Grants And PPP Loans

LISC has pledged to raise $25 million in the next few years for housing and community programs.

It's a partner in a $50 million deal announced Sept. 1 by homeless services agency Roof Above to buy and preserve affordability at the HillRock Estates Apartments in east Charlotte.  The deal was done with a variety of financing twists. It includes a $5 million low-interest loan from Atrium Health, in exchange for 50 units to house its own employees. 

And LISC is giving Roof Above $600,000 toward training, counseling and other support services for low-income tenants in 75 units there.

“While LISC has come to Charlotte for housing, we are doing a lot of things in addition to housing," Caldwell said. "You know, we have a health initiative. We're working on a safety initiative. We provided a significant amount of grants to small businesses during this pandemic.” 

Small business grants and federal Paycheck Protection Program funds from LISC totaling over $2.9 million helped 129 businesses stay afloat amid the COVID-19 economic slowdown, Caldwell said. Businesses got up to $20,000 each in grant funding.

Acting As Need Grows

But housing remains the main focus as the affordable housing gap continues to widen.

A Mecklenburg County report out last week estimates a shortage of 44,572 rental units for people making less than 50% of the area median income, or $39,500 a year for a family of four. That's up almost 1,500 units from last year's report.

To build more, Caldwell said new projects need money, land and financing from a team of public and private partners.  

“We've taken action to get more housing on the ground," she said. "Is it going to happen overnight? No, it won't. We know that.” 

Caldwell said people in Charlotte working on the problem understand that doing nothing isn't an option.

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Corrected: October 11, 2020 at 3:30 PM EDT
This article has been updated to correct the number of business owners that grants or PPP loans through LISC.
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.