Mecklenburg County's annual report on homelessness and housing instability shows that despite some progress, the need for lower-cost housing continues to rise in the Charlotte region. The new numbers are a reminder of just how acute the shortage remains, especially for residents at the low end of the income spectrum.
Amy Anderson of Charlotte has a bachelor's degree from Ohio University and has worked off and on over the years as an office manager and executive assistant — usually with a salary in the range of $15 an hour.
It's just not enough, she said.
"Really, housing has been a major issue in my life for quite some time — really ever since college," Amy Anderson said.
During that time, she has lived with friends or family, been evicted from apartments, lived out of her car for a time with her two kids, and once stayed at the Salvation Army family shelter in Charlotte. She only recently learned that there's a term for all this — "housing instability."
That's a focus of the annual Charlotte-Mecklenburg State of Housing Instability and Homelessness report published two weeks ago. The report was funded by the county and produced by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. The institute's Bridget Anderson was the author.
"One of the biggest takeaways here is that the research indicates that there is a deficit in affordable housing for those in the lowest income bracket," Bridget Anderson said.
By that she means those making 30% or less of the area median income. In Charlotte, that's about $25,000 a year for a family of four.
In 2017, the county fell about 27,000 housing units short for this group. Put another way, there were more than 32,000 households below 30%, but only about 5,300 units at monthly rents they could afford, Bridget Anderson said.
"And so the community needs continued investment in affordable permanent housing solutions, including long-term, permanent housing subsidies," she said.
There are bright spots, according to the report. The city's Housing Trust Fund has helped develop nearly 8,500 new housing units since 2002, though many more are needed. In 2019, housing agencies provided 1,403 housing units for 2,143 people.
And Charlotte city leaders are working on more subsidies. In the past year, they've raised more than $100 million in public and private funding to develop new affordable housing, plus commitments of low-interest loans and other support.
Among the report's other findings:
- There's a rising number of cost-burdened households — defined as those that pay more than 30% of their incomes on rent or other household costs. The problem is worst among black and Latino communities, where more than half the households are housing cost-burdened.
- Evictions were up for the third straight year, by 12%.
- And the number of homeless residents grew to more than 2,100 as of June 30. Last year's report put the homeless total at 1,700. But this year's survey is different, said Bridget Anderson. It's the first to identify and count homeless people by name using the county's new Homeless Management Information System, "which is a real-time, up-to-date list of all of the people experiencing homelessness in the community," Bridget Anderson said. "And so, as opposed to the point-in-time count, which is a one-night snapshot, this actually is a fuller picture of who is homeless in the community."
This year's county report doesn't reflect another major concern, said Carol Hardison, the CEO of Crisis Assistance Ministry. That's the loss of naturally occurring affordable housing — existing low-cost units that are renovated or redeveloped as market-rate housing.
"So, we have apartments out there that are affordable but they're rapidly being lost and being torn down or being taken over," Hardison said. "So, what we see at Crisis Assistance Ministry are people who suddenly had their apartment complex taken over or sudden rent increases, $200 rent increases overnight. And so there's sort of a hidden crisis that's taking place within these apartment complexes."
All of these numbers are played out in the lives of people like Amy Anderson.
She falls into that less than 30% of area median income category. And for the past two years, she and her 13-year-old son, Aaron, have been renting a house in Coulwood in northwest Charlotte. Most of their income is from a business her son started and they now run together — making woven and beaded bracelets. But she said the $1,055 monthly rent is a stretch, and she wonders every month how she's going to pay it.
"Literally over the past six months we have been in so many different crises in terms of how are we going to pay the rent," she said. "I've done fundraisers. I've reached out to good friends to help, you know, to help contribute to our efforts."
She said Crisis Assistance Ministry helps with rent and utility payments. The group spends $2.4 million a year to help about 5,000 families a year pay the rent in Charlotte.
The bottom line is there is very little housing available in Charlotte these days for the thousands of households like Amy Anderson's. To her, Charlotte's — and the nation's — crisis is not just a housing gap, but also an income gap.
"It's not a popular opinion but there's a huge disparity between these executive-level incomes and the general (population), the people that work hard that actually make these companies run," she said. "They're underpaid and they're overworked."
Amy Anderson also said that when it comes to pay, gender and racial disparities are the status quo in U.S. companies.
"And I'm a result of that," she said.
Some Charlotte leaders are already talking about income inequality. But that may be an even tougher nut to crack than "Finding Home."