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Charlotte City Council Supports $3M For Brookhill -- With Strings Attached

New apartments nearby loom over Brookhill Village off South Tryon Street.
David Boraks
New apartments nearby loom over Brookhill Village off South Tryon Street.

Charlotte City Council voted 8 to 3 Monday to commit $3 million in city housing bond money to the proposed redevelopment of the aging Brookhill Village. But it comes with strings attached.

City leaders have twice said no to developer Tom Hendrickson of Raleigh, who wants help financing a planned $65 million redevelopment of the low-income housing complex off South Tryon Street. The money would come in the form of a 17-year loan.

The 70-year-old complex is one of the last low-rent developments in the area, but it's in disrepair. Because it's close to new apartment towers and other developments in South End, housing advocates are concerned that the more than 140 families who live there will be displaced.

Practically speaking, Monday's vote didn't really change the city's stance that Hendrickson needs to show more clearly how he'll pay the rest of the project's cost before he can get city Housing Trust Fund dollars.

But council member Malcolm Graham said the vote sends a message to the community "that we're committed to this project if all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed, that we understand the importance of adding Brookhill to the portfolio of all the other affordable housing projects and initiatives that we did this year. But it has to make sense."

Some Misgivings

The council's two Republicans voted no, as did Democrat Renee Johnson. She was afraid it put more restrictions on the developer and urged city staff to be more creative in finding ways to help pay for the project.

"Is there a way we can work these out?" she asked. "I just want to stay at the table and figure out if we can negotiate before we say it's contingent on A-B-C… It makes it more restrictive."

The commitment is contingent on the developer securing a primary long-term loan, said city housing director Pamela Wideman. She said that actually is fiscally responsible and protects future tenants.

"This prevents the development from being foreclosed on in a short term without a permanent financing commitment, and then there being discussion in the community about what do we do with these affordable residents who could be foreclosed upon?" Wideman said.

Even with the city's contribution, Hendrickson has work to do. Besides securing a long-term bank loan, he also still has to convince the private Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund to lend him another $10 million.

Plans call for about half the planned 324 units to be for low-income residents. In a statement after the vote, Hendrickson pledged to continue seeking additional funding to keep affordable housing at the site.

Tom Hendrickson
Tom Hendrickson

“The New Brookhill team is grateful to the community and to Charlotte City Council members and staff who are willing to invest in the lives and futures of Brookhill families. The residents of Brookhill are counting on all of us as we continue to work together across public and private sectors to find a way forward for affordable housing in New Brookhill," Hendrickson said.

"We are not at the finish line yet. We pledge to continue to work hard to close the remaining gaps in funding and look forward to finding additional partners and creative solutions for affordable housing in New Brookhill,” said Hendrickson, the chair of Lookout Housing Ventures Inc., which is developing the project.

Community Seeks Solution

Rev. Ray McKinnon
Ray McKinnon

The stakes are high. Hendrickson has said if he can't find financing, the current residents of Brookhill could be displaced. Residents would have difficulty finding anything in Charlotte close to the $500 a month rent many pay.

Ray McKinnon is a neighborhood activist and Methodist pastor who joined other community leaders in an open letter last week calling on the council to "find a way" to keep affordable housing in Brookhill. To him, it's about making sure current residents benefit from redevelopment instead of falling victim to it.

"Who will be able to partake in the improvements that are going to come here? Will it be the people who for decades have called the space home and community?" he asked in an interview Monday.

"Or will it go the way of so many other neighborhoods in Charlotte that have seen gentrification? And it will be people from the outside getting the benefits," McKinnon said.

Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.
David Boraks
Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.

Photographer Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. has spent the past few years documenting the people of Brookhill Village and thinks they're being forced to "defend their humanity."

"It's almost as if there is a grant proposal that's due. And you have to write a 10,000-word essay, given them (leaders) all the reasons why you shouldn't be displaced," said Jacobs, who also signed the open letter last week.

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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.