This fall, voters in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be asked to approve a ballot measure directing $50 million in municipal bond proceeds to the city’s housing trust fund in an effort to address a shortage of affordable housing that’s become a pervasive feature of the American urban landscape. And as of last week, they have a much clearer sense of how the money will be spent.
On Aug. 27, the Charlotte City Council voted to approve a new “Framework for Building and Expanding Access to Opportunity through Housing Investments.” The document, which was prepared by the city in partnership with the national affordable housing nonprofit group Enterprise Community Partners, lays out the scope of Charlotte’s housing needs and identifies key strategies for building and preserving affordable units, while focusing on developing “family self-sufficiency” by making housing investments that consider employment and transportation amenities.
“I think that it is the best [plan] we’ve had — ever,” says Ray McKinnon, a pastor, Charlotte Housing Authority Commissioner, and member of the group Leading on Opportunity, which helped lay the groundwork for the affordable housing strategy. “I think it certainly gets us on the right track, and I’m cautiously optimistic that with this beginning we are headed down the right path toward staving off the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte.”
According to the housing framework, Charlotte needs 24,000 more housing units for residents earning 50 percent of Area Median Income or less. The need is driven by the confluence of housing costs rising faster than incomes, a housing market that limits homeownership opportunities for low-income people, and the expectation that the city could add 500,000 residents in the next 12 years, many of them seniors. The framework is meant to guide investments by the city as well as private and nonprofit partners, including the Foundation for the Carolinas, which has already pledged some additional money toward the cause.
The framework says that the city should prioritize its investments in housing for families earning up to 60 percent of Area Median Income, serve families that are at risk of displacement, and use housing investments to expand access to job opportunities. It aims to do so through a variety of strategies, including:
Expanding the development of rental housing with programs that support Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) deals,
Using federal community development block grant funds to help create mixed-income housing,
Creating an acquisition fund to make strategic land purchases,
Establishing a fund and tax relief program to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing,
And ensuring that publicly-funded developments set aside 20 percent of units for families earning 30 percent of Area Median Income or less.
In addition to the roughly 1,100 annual LIHTC units produced with support from the city’s current Housing Trust Fund, the framework suggests, an additional $50 million could support 4,400 more units built and preserved. It also expects to create an “equity fund” with support from philanthropic foundations and other investors to support LIHTC deals.
“The very low- or extremely low-income level is a priority for the city, and that’s certainly something that is understandable given the shortage,” says Julie Porter, president of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, a nonprofit housing developer. “We’re willing and able and kind of excited to respond to that, because it’s always been really difficult to provide [that type of housing.] That has been really difficult to do, and so having that as a priority means that everybody is going to be expecting to have bigger gaps to fill.”
Pam Wideman, director of housing and neighborhood services for the City of Charlotte, says the framework recognizes that the city can’t simply build its way out of the shortage, which is why it elevates preservation of already existing affordable housing to a priority. And it emphasizes the role of non-city partners in addressing the challenge.
“Affordable Housing is an issue here as it is in many other cities,” Wideman says. “It takes an all-hands-on-deck approach, meaning the local government will never be able to solve it on its own. So we’re really blessed in Charlotte to have our partners come along with us.”
Porter says that if the city can preserve two or three large-scale naturally-occurring affordable housing complexes (at least 200 units each), and help fund hundreds of new very-low-income rental units a year, it will start to make a real dent in the affordable housing shortage. And she, along with other housing advocates in the city, feel confident voters will approve the measure.
“Is it a done deal?” Porter says. “I think people feel very good about it because affordable housing has been identified in almost every sector, even the business sector, as a key need in Charlotte. I do think that there is wide support for the bond. It’s aggressive, but it’s desperately needed.”
Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.