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Charlotte Talks: Challenges Of Providing Affordable Housing In Rapidly-Growing Charlotte


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The ambitious goal of creating 5,000 affordable housing units in three years is facing serious headwinds. We talk to some City Council members about the challenges of creating and preserving affordable housing.

After last year's unrest following the shooting of Keith Scott, Charlotte's city council set some ambitious goals. One of them was to create 5,000 affordable housing units over three years. It's a task that's easier said than done in Charlotte, which is seeing housing prices and rent go up by the day, right alongside development that's displacing longtime residents in low-income neighborhoods.

The demand for affordable housing is high and the city says it's halfway to meeting their goal, but funding for projects is running out. On Monday, the council met to discuss the city's affordable housing strategy and progress towards the 5,000 unit goal.

Mike Collins will talk with council members about their progress and some of the challenges of creating and preserving more affordable housing in our growing city.

Some highlights from the show:

On the unrest surrounding the shooting of Keith Scott

We had already identified that we had a goal of 5,000 units in five years.  After the unfortunate events where we lost the life of a man in our city, the conversation then became: ‘Can we accelerate this?’ It wasn’t the fact that the shooting caused us to do more, we as a council recognized that the community was hurting and we were trying to figure out what is the best way for us to advance what we’ve already known and seen –that people are being priced out of housing and displaced.   –LaWana Mayfield
The connection is the shooting caused an out pour of anger. After the shooting there was a lot of unrest in Charlotte. What the council recognized was there was a deeper rooted problems behind that unrest. We thought, ‘What could we do to be responsive?’ We passed a community action plan and issued a letter to the community that said we would focus on three areas to help alleviate the problems of people at this level: how we police, housing and job creation.   –Ed Driggs
After the council briefing, there was a meeting of affordable housing advocates and protestors from last year. They said, people aren’t just angry about policing. We feel that our communities are being displaced and don’t have a voice.  –Ely Portillo

What Mecklenburg needs

You shouldn’t spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing –that includes rent and utilities. In Mecklenburg County, the Area’s Median Income (AMI) is about $56,000 a year.  The need for affordable housing for people making less than the AMI is about 21,000 units. If someone is making a little over minimum wage, say 16,800 a year or 30 percent of the AMI. Under the 30 percent affordability bench mark, they would only have about $400 a month to spend on housing to meet that affordability bench mark. There’s not a lot of subsidized housing in Charlotte for people to spend $400 a month on. For people making 80 percent of the AMI, the $42,000 and $45,000 range, your nurses, teachers or lower paid professional jobs, the consultants found there isn’t a great need for affordable housing based on the market there’s actually an oversupply of housing units those people can afford.  –Ely Portillo
Developers are business people. We can’t impose a tax on them by requiring them to do things that are not profitable for the public’s interest. It’s up to us to fund projects like that. Through different funding structures we could make it more convenient. We have bureaucratic or procedural barriers that we could work on. We could facilitate the construction by relaxing some of the requirements we apply to for profit things.   –Ed Driggs
Are we utilizing our opportunity with Habitat for Humanity? They focus on actual homeownership and not putting everyone in apartments. We’re having conversations about expanding and revolving trust funds.   –LaWana Mayfield

Look at the system as a whole

We need to recognize the need to invest in the social health of our community. This housing situation has created a polarization you can see in the segregation of schools. There’s a burden on all of us. We need to look at the system as a whole.   –Ed Driggs
Affordable is a subjective word. If we look at diverse price point housing that would change the conversation. Affordable or work force housing has a negative connotation. The other piece of that is our educational system. Today there’s technology for those who are at schools where that’s available. If you’re in a lower income community, that school has substandard opportunities.   –LaWana Mayfield
If wages were keeping up I don’t think we’d be having this conversation as often as we’re having it. People are feeling this because their wages aren’t keeping up. Do you have people move further away and commute? Housing doesn’t have a silver bullet because, when you talk about what people can afford you talk about, wages, school, education, job skills and barriers that prevent them from accessing the housing market. It’s a discussion that touches everything.  –Ely Portillo


LaWana Mayfield - Charlotte City Council member, district 3. Chair of the council's Housing & Neighborhood Development committee

Ed Driggs - Charlotte City Council member, district 7. Vice chair of the Housing & Neighborhood Development committee

Ely Portillo - Reporter for the Charlotte Observer

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Erin Keever is Senior Producer of WFAE's Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. She has been with the show since joining the station in 2006. She's a native Charlottean.