There's a good chance you've heard the voice of Pamela Wideman in stories for Finding Home, our series in which we look at affordable housing in the Charlotte region. Wideman is the director of housing and neighborhood services for Charlotte. She joined WFAE’s Marshall Terry to discuss successes, challenges, and strategies in addressing Charlotte's affordable housing crisis.
Marshall Terry: Following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in September of 2016 the city pledged it would build or preserve 5,000 affordable housing units over the next three years. The three-year anniversary of that shooting is this September. How many units have been built so far?
Pamela Wideman: We've completed that goal. And those units have been created. They've not all been built new but they've been created through the city's various housing programs.
Marshall Terry: And what do you mean by that?
Pamela Wideman: So the city has various housing programs where we seek to create housing affordability. So that's done by building new construction that's financed partially with our Housing Trust Fund. We also have our House Charlotte down payment assistance program. That's where we help create affordable homeownership through providing down payment assistance. And we also preserve housing through our single and multi-family rehabilitation programs, so we help to preserve housing and help people age in place. So through those three programs that's how we create it and fulfill Council's goal to complete the 5,000 units within three years.
Marshall Terry: Can you talk a little specifically about the projects that the $50 million housing trust fund that voters approved in November, what that money's been used for?
Pamela Wideman: So far we've only used the $50 million for three housing developments, two of those are new that we'll be getting under way shortly and then we have one NOAH, which is also known as naturally occurring affordable housing. Again, we not only seek to build new affordable housing but we seek to maintain the existing housing stock.
Marshall Terry: Has all the $50 million already been used?
Pamela Wideman: All of the $50 million has not been used. We're in the process now of reviewing the proposals that we received where more of the $50 million will be used.
Marshall Terry: How much of the fund has been used?
Pamela Wideman: Suffice it to say we have about $32 million of that left.
Marshall Terry: So the number that that seems to get tossed out a lot in terms of the affordable housing need in Charlotte is 34,000 units. Is that still the correct number?
Pamela Wideman: So thank you for asking that question. Suffice it to say that the need is big. But let me talk a little bit about the 34,000. Several years ago when we started really trying to get our heads around what the need is, we were relying on some HUD data. And so that's where the need of 34,000 came in. Fast forward, we hired a consultant to come in the community. They did a study and then what we'd learned is that the need was actually 24,000. Now that was in 2017, I believe. So that number has probably grown. But the need is somewhere around the 24,000 number.
Marshall Terry: So a little bit less but still obviously a lot. With the way Charlotte is growing so rapidly is it realistic that the city can meet that demand?
Pamela Wideman: I think over time we can address that need if not meet that need. But what it's going to require is a continued and even a more aggressive approach than we've been doing previously. I said before, we have a number of public and private partners who are stepping up to help us meet the challenge. So I think with continued increased bond allocations, continued and increased participation from the private sector, we can go a long way to catch up with that growing need.
Marshall Terry: When you talked about kind of the climate now and it being a little different that it has been in the past, but what exactly is different now?
Pamela Wideman: I would say you have more participation than ever from the private sector in terms of contributing tools in our tool box, in terms of cash, in terms of low-interest loans from the private sector. In the city manager and city council's recently approved budget, you have another $50 million that will be on a housing trust fund on our next bond referendum. We also have a new program in our budget where we're going to be able to acquire single family residences and rehab them for affordable. We have a new intermediary, a new partner in the community known as LISC. They are bringing resources to this community that would have never been brought to bear. So we have more players in the game.
Marshall Terry: You mentioned LISC. What is that specifically and why is it a big deal?
Pamela Wideman: That acronym stands for Local Initiatives Support Corporation. And LISC is an intermediary, so they bring both housing and community development resources to the community that will help us with our affordable housing challenge.
Marshall Terry: And in what ways do they do that?
Pamela Wideman: They do that through obviously bringing resources to bear for additional affordable housing, but they also do that through job training programs and some neighborhood revitalization programs.
Marshall Terry: Now you've said that the city missed some opportunities for creating more affordable housing along the Blue Line when it was being built in the 2000s, among them not buying up land along the line to be used for affordable housing. The extension to UNC Charlotte of the Blue Line opened last year but there's not a lot of affordable housing along it, either. So did the city make the same mistake with the extension?
Pamela Wideman: So the city did not purchase land along the Blue Line extension. However, I will tell you that there are already two - there's one development that is complete. That is one of the mill properties. That's 42 units of affordable housing. People often don't know that, that's over in NODA, in the NODA area, and then NRP, they're a developer, they just broke ground on an affordable development just a few miles south of here (WFAE studios in University City) and there's another one underway. So while the city did not purchase land, we certainly are partnering with at least that developer to gain some affordable housing along the Blue Line extension.
Marshall Terry: Why did the city not purchase land along the extension?
Pamela Wideman: That's normally not the city's course of action to purchase land along the Blue Line extension. But I will tell you that the city did in the early 2000s, late 1990s did purchase land along the Blue Line, the first leg of the light rail and that development hopefully will be getting under way shortly. We went through an economic downturn which didn't allow that development to happen on the Blue Line as we would have liked to.
Marshall Terry: What have you learned about Charlotte's affordable housing challenges since taking this job about two and a half years ago?
Pamela Wideman: So actually I've been working in and around affordable housing for about a decade. I've learned lots, but a couple of the things: Education is important, right? About what affordable housing is, what affordable housing isn't. We often talk about it from a deficit, but I like to talk about it from a benefit. The benefits of having an adequate supply of affordable housing in our community so that all of our residents can live and thrive. It's also important to really understand who needs affordable housing, many of our police, our firefighters our teachers, many of our government employees need affordable housing. It's kind of one of those things that you have to talk about and educate often. The financing is very complicated. We have a very sophisticated affordable housing development community who can help bring these developments to bear. But again, it's an expensive proposition and it's a complicated financing transaction and it's complicated because these developments have to be financed in such a way that the affordable housing is maintained over the long haul.