Rattled by its last place spot in an assessment of economic mobility in the 50 largest U.S. metros, Charlotte city leaders are aiming to reverse systemic barriers of racial and economic segregation in coming years. A new report, released Monday, offers nearly 100 recommendations on how to help the city’s poor.
The 92-page document follows two years of study, but few of the suggestions come as a surprise, reports The Charlotte Observer: more affordable housing, increased access to affordable birth control, more day care, better-paying jobs and more job training opportunities.
“There’s nothing earth-shattering,” Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham said at the release of the report. “We already know the things that need to happen. We need the courage to do it.”
The report was compiled by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, formed in May 2015 following a 2014 study from Harvard University and UC Berkeley that showed that poor children in Charlotte are less likely to escape poverty compared to their peers in America’s other large cities.
Michael Marsicano, president and CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas, which helped fund the task force, added: “If you came to this convocation hoping for a silver bullet to advance the cause, we will disappoint you. There is no silver bullet.”
The report calls for a dramatic increase in Charlotte’s affordable housing bonds from $15 million every two years to $50 million, and recommends eliminating the waiting list of more than 3,000 children for day care. The task force also recommended increased access to long-acting reversible birth control.
Complaints over topics left off the table have already surfaced, including the report’s lack of mention about LGBT needs and scant focus on education reform.
The task force also praised the efforts of a number of groups that have already been serving the city’s low-income residents, including one of the city’s two hospital systems, Carolinas HealthCare System. CHCS has partnered with Charlotte-Mecklenburg community colleges and universities on training programs so that young people can gain entry into the health field while earning experience and money through part-time employment.
Other groups working to increase economic mobility include a local incubator called City Startup Labs, which aims to close the racial gap in local entrepreneurship by cultivating ethnic minority entrepreneurial talent, and a city-sponsored steering committee focused on digital inclusion. The committee was tasked with developing a comprehensive plan for internet connectivity for the more than 50,000 households in Charlotte lacking access, including 27 percent of students.
As Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts wrote in a Next City op-ed in 2016, “This lack of connectivity disproportionately affects our minority communities, widening the gap between the haves and have-nots and preventing opportunity from spreading into entire neighborhoods.”
A second phase of the project will involve a new public-private force that will seek funding and create goals and an action plan for implementing recommendations. The report has cost about $400,000 so far, the Observer reports. Initial funding for the new public-private group will come from the United Way of Central Carolinas and the Foundation for the Carolinas.
“This report marks the beginning of our work, a blueprint for us to work together,” Roberts said. “We are not going back to business as usual.”
Kelsey E. Thomas is Next City’s associate editor.