5 solutions to Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis

5 solutions to Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis

The Sharon Oaks apartment complex, which was rehabbed as a NOAH project. Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios.

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If what we’re doing currently won’t solve the affordable housing shortage any time soon, then what can we do?

Here are some of the ideas from inside our community and elsewhere that experts say could make a dent.

1. Vouchers

The alternative to subsidizing developers is subsidizing tenants.

  • The federal government allocates around 5,100 Section 8 vouchers to Inlivian, Charlotte’s public housing authority, according to spokeswoman Cheron Porter, which is a fraction of the total need.

For example: Programs like A Way Home provide vouchers in the wake of inadequate federal resources. It subsidizes the difference between what families can afford to pay and the rent for a market-rate apartment for two years.

  • Most of the participants earn under 30% of the area median income, according to board chairperson Judy Seldin-Cohen.
  • Over 300 families have been housed from homelessness since its inception.

    Yes, but: The city says it can’t use its Housing Trust Fund for vouchers, per state law, creating a funding challenge.

    • Charlotte recently launched a rental subsidy using revenue from an affordable housing owner’s property taxes. It is aimed at those earning 30% of the area median income who do not have Section 8.

    2. Targeting HTF investments

    Charlotte could dedicate a higher proportion of trust fund dollars go to housing for the lowest-income residents.

    • Pittsburgh, for example, dedicates half of its trust fund money to households at 30% of the area median income.

    Yes, but: It’s a balance, developers and the city say, because they want to build mixed-income housing that avoids concentrating poverty.

    3. NOAHs 

    “Naturally occurring affordable housing” commonly refers to apartments that are rented on the private market, but because they are older, they tend to be cheaper.

    • The city and private sector have expanded investment in NOAH projects in recent years.
    • Tearing them down for new and expensive developments is a wasted opportunity to provide affordable units, leaders say.

    How it works: A developer purchases an older building, receives public money to rehab it, and keeps the rents affordable.

    4. A LOT more money

    Brian Collier with the Foundation For The Carolinas was part of a group that drafted a report on economic mobility that called for the increase in the Housing Trust Fund to $50 million.

    • “We wanted it to be much higher, but we put in a number which we thought was reasonable, and which could get early political support,” he says. “Now, we’ve already proven that at the current levels, that is inadequate.”
    • Collier and others want to see the housing bond substantially increased. To match the scale of the problem, Collier says, would require billions of dollars.

    What’s next: City Council has not yet detailed plans for the Housing Trust Fund or other city bonds slated to be put up for a referendum this year. Collier says there are conversations about securing additional money for a private effort the Foundation led to match the $50 million bond.

    5. Acceptance

    The big picture: Charlotte needs new housing at all price points to keep up with a population that’s grown 20% in the last decade.

    • Still, residents often fight new development in their neighborhood.
    • “Even if we had four times as much money to build, we also have to get more comfortable as a community with building more housing,” said Lee Cochran, with developer Laurel Street Residential.

      Of note: Another component of housing insecurity is wages. But Charlotte doesn’t have the authority to raise its minimum wage, which is still $7.25 per hour in North Carolina. Only state or federal lawmakers can do so.

      The bottom line: There isn’t a magic bullet. But a combination of strategies targeted at those earning the least, combined with the resources of a bank town filled with wealth, could move our city toward meaningful progress.

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