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Lassiter, Foxx address homeless; tension rises between candidates

Charlotte's mayoral election is three weeks away. Republican John Lassiter and Democrat Anthony Foxx have conducted more than a dozen debates so far. Most of them have been pretty standard. But on Thursday night the candidates spoke to an audience composed mainly of homeless people like Dennis Mysliwiec. He was one of about 30 who attended a forum hosted by Homeless Helping Homeless. Dennis Mysliwiec: I want someone in charlotte that's going to stand up and say, 'whoa, whoa, that's enough. The homeless thing we can deal with this. There's times right now where these homeless people have nowhere to go. It's raining and you're sleeping under a bridge and the police come and tell them to get out. Where do they go? What do they do? I want the mayor to tell them what can we do. WFAE's Lisa Miller and Mark Rumsey discussed the event and the mayoral's election. The followed is a rushed transcription of their conversation, which aired Friday during All Things Considered. Mark: I'll assume both candidates are against homelessness, but did the candidates do as Myeslowick wanted and take a strong position? Lisa: Well, both candidates said they were committed to ending homelessness in Charlotte. That's a stance that's not too difficult to take. Foxx said the city should find a way to support shelters, but also work on some of the softer services like health care and substance abuse treatment programs-those are areas that usually fall to the county. Lassiter stressed that Charlotte needs to make sure there are services that really address what it takes to get someone off the street for the long term like credit and career counseling and more affordable housing. But for the most part they didn't talk about commitment in terms of the amount of money the city should spend on ending homelessness. Some people have pointed to a shortage of affordable housing as one reason that an estimated 5-thousand people in Charlotte are homeless. What did the candidates have to say about creating more affordable housing? Mecklenburg County estimates that by next year there will be a shortage of 17-thousand affordable housing units for those on very low incomes. Both Foxx and Lassiter say they want more homes that people working minimum wage jobs can afford. Lassiter said he's asked the city to look at coming up with a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing. Basically his idea works this way: Under state law, as a renter, when you put down a security deposit the landlord has to put that money into an account that doesn't accumulate interest. Instead, Lassiter suggests letting that money accumulate interest and then putting the interest toward affordable housing. LASSITER: You can begin to have the kind of income stream that allows this kind of facility be beneficial for the folks who need it because of crisis not because of having to have a consistent place to go every night. Foxx stressed putting more money into the Housing Trust Fund, which is one of the main ways the city helps build affordable housing. That money comes from Basically, the city can use that money to partner with private developers and non-profits to build affordable housing. Last year the city spent nearly 9 million dollars to help develop 641 housing units. FOXX: We've got to put the public back in public-private partnerships. We've had too many public private partnerships that have had residential components that have not had affordable housing in them. I think we have to do more work on that. Mark: What are the dynamics like between the two candidates at this point? Before the primary, debates seemed pretty congenial. Lisa: Well, the dynamics have definitely changed. At this point, Foxx has been going after Lassiter a lot more, and Lassiter isn't taking Foxx to task much. But last night, Foxx went to shake Lassiter's hand and he side-stepped him. And, Mark, you remember the League of Women Voters debate that was canceled after Lassiter wanted to limit the number of rebuttals to six. That event is now on again, but it's no longer a debate. It will be a forum where the two candidates will have 30 minutes each to answer questions.