OP-ED: Why these two Charlotte leaders are supporting the affordable housing bonds

OP-ED: Why these two Charlotte leaders are supporting the affordable housing bonds
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We received a lot of feedback to Andrew Dunn’s October 23rd op-ed Why I voted no on Charlotte’s affordable housing bonds. Today we’re publishing two opposing view from prominent city leaders on why they support the bonds.

Michael Marsicano, President and CEO, Foundation For The Carolinas

Over the past week the difficulty in overcoming our city’s housing shortage, particularly for our most vulnerable citizens, has been in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, there has been little mention of our City Council’s unanimous vote in August to allocate an unprecedented 20 percent of all future units through housing bonds for Charlotteans who make very low wages. This vote was reaffirmed by Mayor Lyles last week. We should be proud to vote in favor of the housing bonds on the November ballot because a re-energized housing trust fund will serve a range of mixed-income households living in proximity to one another.

This we know to be true: mixed-income neighbors and neighborhoods maximize economic opportunity and upward mobility; concentration of households by income level works against opportunity and mobility. Tomorrow’s housing trust fund has been designed to learn from the past with improvements for the future.

When the Charlotte Uprising unfolded in 2016, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force was already working in neighborhoods throughout our city, listening to many of our citizens experiencing economic challenges. The protests came as a surprise to some residents, while countless others knew they had been left in the shadows of a growing skyline. We learned from these honest conversations about Charlotteans who struggle with the crippling burden of segregation and poverty, compromising dreams for their families.

The task force’s resulting Leading On Opportunity report gives us a road map with a new perspective for hope.

The report lifts up three crucial areas for fostering upward mobility: early childcare and education, college and career readiness, and family and child stability. Affordable housing is a cornerstone of family and child stability. Mixed-income housing creates the opportunity for upward mobility. Both are critical underpinnings for working families.

In Charlotte, 79 percent of our neighbors who rent apartments and who earn less than $50,000 a year are spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. This 30 percent threshold is the federal definition of affordable housing. Housing that is not affordable forces families to make such difficult choices as sending a sick child to school or forgoing purchasing warm winter clothing, food or medicine. Those are choices none of us believe our neighbors should be forced to make.

Please join me in voting yes for the affordable housing bonds. Together we can help our neighbors find their way to greater opportunities for stability and prosperity.

Michael Marsicano is President and CEO of Foundation For The Carolinas, a community foundation serving Charlotte and a 13-county region. Its mission is to inspire philanthropy and empower individuals to create a better community. Visit www.fftc.org.

Harold Rice Jr., Chief Program Officer, Community Link

My agency works every day with people who urgently need affordable housing in Charlotte. Our clients are mostly lower-income, including veterans, single moms escaping domestic violence, people living with disabilities, and families in our city who earn less than $25,000 a year.

I’m voting yes for the affordable housing bond. If you could meet my clients, I know they would ask you to vote yes, too.

The bond, which would allot $50 million to the Housing Trust Fund, gives us one of our best opportunities in years to do something meaningful about this intractable problem. To state the obvious, the city can’t preserve existing affordable housing and help build new affordable units without cash. A no vote on November 6 means we’ll have two more years before we can vote on another housing bond. Two years for the problem to grow worse.

But just as important, passing the bond will help the city capitalize on momentum.

Foundation for the Carolinas has started an initiative to match the $50 million from the bond with $50 million from the private sector. Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national nonprofit, is coming to Charlotte to help create a pipeline of affordable housing. Local nonprofits are cooperating on innovative projects, such as my own agency, Community Link, and its work with homeless children and families from A Child’s Place.

A no vote would perpetuate the dynamics that led to Charlotte being ranked 50th out of 50 major cities for economic mobility in that infamous Harvard/UC Berkeley study. It would signal our city has given up on the belief that we can help our most vulnerable population. It would provide an easy out to those who say “no affordable housing in my backyard.”

I agree with Agenda’s Andrew Dunn that bond money must be prudently spent. In late August, the Charlotte City Council adopted a framework to help insure the monies will benefit those most in need. It says if an apartment complex receives money from the bond, at least 20 percent of the apartments have to be affordable for households earning 30 percent of our area’s median income (AMI).

After the bond passes, we can’t let up. We must have serious conversations with city officials and monitor what they do to make sure the money is spent as promised. If developers receive financial incentives or tax credits to include affordable housing in their communities, a sizable number of the units have to be affordable for households at 50 percent or 30 percent AMI.

In public forums, op-eds and private conversations, we have worried about this issue for years. Now we have a real chance to do something about it. All it takes is you, voting yes.

Harold Rice Jr. is chief program officer of Community Link, a Charlotte nonprofit that enables individuals and families to obtain and sustain safe, decent and affordable housing. Reach him at HRice@communitylinknc.org.

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