Charlotte voters gave the city permission Tuesday to borrow more than $223 million to fund future projects to address housing, transportation and infrastructure needs.
The choice was put before voters on their midterm election ballot in the form of three sets of bonds that overwhelmingly passed.
The bonds, which are one of the main sources of funding for many city projects, were broken down into three categories: $118.08 in Charlotte transportation bonds that passed by 69 percent, $50 million in housing bonds and $55 million that garnered 69 percent approval and $55 million in neighborhood improvement bonds, which passed with 73 percent approval.
The transportation bonds will go toward financing projects to improve Charlotte’s transportation and mobility choices, the city says. Projects that are set to be funded by these bonds include a cross-city greenway, improving sidewalks on major roads such as Independence Boulevard and creating more bike lanes across the city.
The housing bond money will go into the city’s Housing Trust Fund and will be used to provide gap funding to developers building or renovating affordable housing units. According to a 2016 report, the city lacks about 34,000 affordable housing units needed to meet the rising demand. The newly approved $50 million is up from the $15 million the city has asked for in the past. The approved bonds come after the city has already spent or committed $124 million for affordable housing projects in the past 16 years, according to data obtained by the Charlotte Observer.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyes said Tuesday’s vote shows that residents recognize that affordable housing is a major problem and that the bond money is a significant means of developing affordable housing for low-income families.
“We’re talking about workforce housing and not just housing for people that need it but people who work here and need a place to live,” Lyles said. “The people that have been living here all during this time of growth deserve to be a part of this city as well and that means having a home.”
But with the boom of upscale rental construction, some existing, affordable complexes have been razed to make way for the new developments. Caitlyn Evans supported the housing bond but said she hopes it will open the door for people of all incomes to live in the city.
“We have many apartments that are very expensive and we have folks in the city who have jobs and can’t afford them,” Evans said. “They have to commute a long time, so it would be better to have more affordable options. I work outside the city in Huntersville and I know people who commute and would love to live in the city but it’s too expensive.”
Even though the housing referendum passed with overwhelming support, some Charlotteans are doubtful that the $50 million will make a big enough dent in the affordable housing demand — mainly for the city’s low-income residents. Working mother of seven Erica Franklin said the need is just too great.
“Some of my family members, friends I know are on the streets,” Franklin said. “I know friends of friends living from house to house, hotels trying to find the best place to live. It breaks my heart because a lot of people can’t afford places to live and then they might get fired from their job at any [moment].”
She lives in Section 8 housing and says the money in the Housing Trust Fund needs to focus on helping Charlotte’s low-income population.
Charlotte’s private sector partners are trying to raise funds to match the $50 million bond, which would significantly pad the Housing Trust Fund, but it still isn’t enough to meet the growing affordable housing demand.
The neighborhood improvement bonds will fund projects to update infrastructure in various Charlotte neighborhoods. Such projects including repaving roads, landscaping, installing street lighting and updating intersections. The money also would fund the Comprehensive Neighborhood Improvement Plan, which aims to connect various Charlotte neighborhoods to employment and retail areas by building new streets, sidewalks, greenways and bike lanes.
The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce headed up the bond issue campaign. Chamber Chief Executive Bob Morgan applauded voters’ decision to invest in Charlotte’s future.
“As a fast growing city, we have a public that understands the need to invest and that’s what we’re doing with these results tonight,” Morgan said.
The bonds approved Tuesday are the third phase of the city’s four-phase investment plan, with a request for final funding of the plan to be made in 2020. The final phase will add more than $170 million for various infrastructure, neighborhood and housing improvements. The plan, which began with voter bonds approved in 2014, aims to borrow more than $759 million in total bond funding to finance continued city improvement projects.