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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Changing Charlotte neighborhoods make residents uncomfortable, and sometimes that's good

Affordable housing is one of Charlotte’s biggest problems. But there are at least two types of affordable housing. One is for people below the poverty line, or close to it — somewhere they can live to keep them off the streets. The other is a little squishier. It’s the type of housing that lets people with modest incomes live in the city without breaking the bank.

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That second kind of housing is causing some controversy in the popular NoDa neighborhood. Charlotte City Council has approved the plans for a 211-unit apartment building called Centro NoDa. It’s pretty centro, all right — it’s on 36th Street, about two blocks from the main intersection at 36th and North Davidson.

This new complex would feature small apartments, averaging less than 600 square feet, with rents in the range of $1,000 a month — cheap by modern Charlotte standards. It’s designed for young folks — single people who want to live the urban life.

Some of the people already living that urban life aren’t happy about the complex. More than 300 NoDa residents signed a petition opposing the complex. Some had specific complaints about the complex — especially what might happen to a big oak tree on the property — but most of the opposition seems to center on how the complex would change the character of the neighborhood.

So let’s talk about that for a minute.

When I moved to Charlotte in the early 1990s, NoDa was a rough place to live. There was one great dive bar, Pat’s Time for One More, and not a whole lot else to recommend in the neighborhood. Some people had been in their old mill houses for decades. Artists lived there because it was cheap. You could buy a house back then for less than what a down payment in NoDa would cost you now.

Over the years, as people with money have rippled back into the city from the suburbs, a lot of them have bought those old mill houses, gutted and renovated them, or just tore them down and put up three-story starter castles. The neighborhood is better now … unless you were one of those original families who couldn’t pay the property taxes anymore or one of those artists who couldn’t afford the rent. What is undeniable is that the character of NoDa has changed.

Here’s what happens when you make a neighborhood livable: Lots more people want to live there. It’s happened in Plaza Midwood, where I live, and in Elizabeth and Belmont and older neighborhoods all over Charlotte. Those of us who moved in changed the character of those neighborhoods. We made it a place where young people with modest incomes want to live. It doesn’t seem fair to pull up the drawbridge once we get the neighborhood how we want it.

I wouldn’t be thrilled with new apartments down the street from me, either. But there was a time, not that long ago, when the people who used to make their homes in Charlotte’s hot neighborhoods got priced out. We ought to try to make it where some new people can get priced back in.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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