At a time when Charlotte is experiencing its third year of increasing family homelessness, the Foundation for the Carolinas wants to create a $20 million endowment to move hundreds more people into stable housing.
The proposal aims to more than double the number of homeless families helped each year by the citys most successful housing charities.
There is an obstacle, however.
For the plan to work, it needs $10 million from the city, and Charlotte has made no secret of its cash shortage.
The solution the Foundation for the Carolinas crafted avoids creating another charity and instead provides more money for existing agencies that have a track record of success.
Those charities partner with homeless parents who have a good work ethic, and help them become more self-sufficient through a combination of social services and volunteer support from churches and synagogues.
Dollars given to the Local Rental Assistance Program, as its being called, would help with such things as rent subsidies, but only for a limited time. Families in the program would be required to become self-sufficient in 24 months or less.
Brian Collier of Foundation for the Carolinas estimates as many as 1,000 people could be helped when the program is up and running. The citys overall population of homeless families is estimated at 3,000 to 4,000.
Details of the rental assistance program were unveiled this week before the Charlotte City Councils Budget Committee. That included the proposal that the city come up with $10 million over the next five years by redirecting money for a business corridor revitalization fund.
The city contributes about $2 million a year to the fund, which currently has a balance of just over $13 million.
Council member Patsy Kinsey, who is on the budget committee, says she believes the proposal deserves study, but added that the idea of getting $10 million is challenging.
I think the council understands the need for safe, affordable housing, she said. But when it comes down to it, we have to look at all our priorities, including the need to provide fire, police, solid waste and transportation.
Contributing to the challenge is the fact that federal dollars given to the city for housing cannot be diverted to a local endowment, officials said. That means all $10 million from the city would have to be locally generated.
Biggest black eyes
Advocates for the foundation plan say city officials would be better served by looking at this as an opportunity to double their money.
Every dollar contributed would be matched by cash from corporations, philanthropists, foundations and the faith community. In fact, Foundation for the Carolinas says it has already received commitments for $3 million from the community, including $1 million of its own money.
Darren Ash of the nonprofit Charlotte Family Housing says its tough to imagine city officials not seeing family homelessness as a priority.
Whats being asked is that they take cash in reserves and use the interest off of it to address one of the biggest black eyes the city has faced for the past three years, Ash said.
These people are the backbone of our economy: Single moms with children who spend all day at low-wage jobs, get on the bus and then fall into bed at night with little or no time for themselves. They have a good work ethic. They just need a little help.
A national study released earlier this year reported Charlotte had a 23 percent increase in homeless families last year. That follows a 21 percent increase the year before.
Foundation for the Carolinas CEO Michael Marsicano said his staff had been keeping tabs on homelessness since it created the Critical Need Response Fund to help charities during the recession.
A year ago, he says the foundation was approached by representatives of the citys faith community, who hoped for a broader approach to the issue. The foundation then began working with other community leaders, including Pat Mumford of the citys Neighborhood & Business Services unit.
Single intake system
Collier helped create the plan and says one of the biggest assets is the creation of a single intake system, where all the countys homeless families and veterans would go to see which program best suits their housing needs.
Those who need the least amount of help would be part of the rental assistance program. Those who need more help would end up in programs that allow extra time for them to finish college or job training.
Collier says its critical that the city provide money and he is cautiously optimistic it will happen.
Among the reasons, he says, is that the program will achieve something that city officials have made a priority: Scattering low-income housing around the city.
But instead of building more low-income projects, families could be placed in existing apartments in those areas, through partnerships with landlords, Collier said.
Were on the brink of this historic moment: The creation of an endowment that will serve as a permanent resource for affordable housing, Collier said.
Think of all the endowments that started modestly, like the Duke Endowment, but built into an incredible community resource. These moments dont come often.
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