Charlotte leaders are pushing to create and preserve more affordable housing to make up for a shortage of what city officials say is at least 24,000 units. And as developers approach City Council for rezonings, lately they’ve been including more of this type of housing.
Tony Mecia with the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter joins WFAE's "Morning Edition" host Lisa Worf for our weekly BizWorthy segment.
Worf: So, last week you talked about the new project proposed for Ballantyne, which set aside 8% of its units as affordable. What else are you seeing?
Mecia: Well, I think we're seeing this trend toward more affordable housing in Charlotte that are proposed by developers. You know, this is a big problem that city leaders have identified as something that they want to address. It's a big problem.
There are a number of different ways to go about it. But one of the ways is to actually have developers build more affordable housing. And the thinking is you really need to spread that out throughout the city, that you shouldn't just concentrate it in one particular area. So what we're seeing is some developers are coming to the City Council or coming to the city and they're proposing projects that include a certain number of affordable units as part of a larger project.
We're seeing that in Ballantyne, we're seeing that in some close in neighborhoods close to uptown, the river district out west of the airport. So I think we're seeing that a little bit more as city leaders have identified this as a priority, we're seeing developers respond to that.
Worf: This city isn't supposed to consider prices of projects when evaluating plans, so why are developers doing this?
Mecia: Well, it sort of depends on who you talk to. That's really sort of the tricky part of the question is the city cannot demand that developers bring affordable housing projects to them. They can encourage it. But, as you mentioned, Lisa, they're not supposed to consider it.
So one view would be that developers are seeing a need and responding to it trying to help out on a problem that the city has identified. The other more cynical way of looking at it would be that developers want to get their projects approved and so they're including these units as part of that in order to win approval from the city.
Worf: Now affordable housing has a big range — anywhere from people making 30% of the county's median income up to 80%. Where on this range are you seeing most of the proposed affordable unit?
Mecia: Well, it really varies. In Ballantyne, they're looking at that 80% number which, you know, which are units that are not going to be dirt cheap. In other places, it's more like 50% or in some cases 30% in some of these closer in neighborhoods where maybe you have a few different price points nearby.
So that is one thing that affordable housing advocates point out is that is it really affordable if it's aimed at 80% of the area's gross median income. There are a number of units in the city at that level and the real need is at those lower levels.
Worf: Now on to another subject — gambling. People can now wager on sports and horse races in North Carolina, thanks to a new state law. So how is that going to change things for our state's two casinos?
Mecia: Well, it's really, I think, going to be revolutionary in terms of the kinds of wagers that you can now put down at these casinos. One in Cherokee, which is about three hours west of Charlotte, the other in Murphy, which is in the very southwest corner of the state about four, four and a half hours from Charlotte.
That bill allows wagering on sports and horse racing in those casinos. So Harrah's, which operates the casinos in both those towns, they're moving fast to try and get this thing up and running before the end of football season. They're not quite open yet but they say by late fall they're expecting to be able to take some wagers on the Panthers, on college football, on all sorts of different sports.
Worf: So talking about the Panthers last week we heard a bit about Tepper's vision for a new Panthers stadium, and he said he thinks a boost in the area's hospitality tax would make sense to pay for it. How's that going over in the hotel industry?
Mecia: Well, maybe a little bit surprisingly. The hotel industry says that it's not that opposed to Tepper's vision here. Obviously Lisa, there's still a lot of details to be worked out. And I don't think you could finance the whole thing from hospitality taxes but it sounds as though that's going to be a big source of funds. The leader of the local hotel industry in town told me last week, you know, they're not opposed to it. They like the idea of more concerts, Final Fours, Super Bowl.
These are, they say, all good things for hotels and they've seen the result of investments in the past really paying off for hotels, not just hotels in the center city but even throughout other parts of the county. Hotels out in Gastonia. There are always all sorts of hotels in the region that benefit from some of these bigger events.
Worf: Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan was talking recently financial stuff and he said, "We're a technology company wrapped around a great bank, and that's going to be the future of what we do." But something came out about his own tech usage. What was that?
Mecia: Well, it's sort of fascinating. On the one hand, Bank of America's making all these investments in technology. He said they spend up to $3 billion a year on coding, very high tech, making that transition from really a bank to a technology company.
But Moynihan said in an interview that, actually, when it comes to his own personal technology, he still uses a BlackBerry, which is, for those who might not remember, that was a technology from 10 or 15 years ago. That was out before iPhones or Android phones and the market share, Lisa, of BlackBerrys nowadays is close to zero percent.
Worf: Close to zero percent.
Mecia: They move a very small number of units. He said in the interview he doesn't want to get used to using the touch screens. He prefers the actual buttons with the letters that the BlackBerry has.