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Overcoming hurdles of affordable housing

Of the public objections thus far to an affordable housing project in South Charlotte, the most recognizable – and perhaps the most sympathetic – came from Michael Kelley. “It doesn’t fit the vision,” the Charlotte resident said of a proposed 70-unit apartment complex on Weddington Road. “When we moved here, behind my house was a field of cows.”

If you’re a homeowner, you might understand that perspective. When you buy a house, you’re also buying expectations of what life will be like all around it. No one wants a surprise that might disrupt that vision.

But the proposed South Charlotte project wouldn’t have the kind of impact its neighbors-to-be fear, and the project would help answer a challenge that has long frustrated city officials: How to provide affordable housing throughout the city, including its more affluent areas.

It’s no secret Charlotte has an affordable housing problem. There’s too little of it available, and too much of it is clustered in struggling areas. But attempts to fix the imbalance have largely failed. In part that’s because of problems with previous proposals, but it’s also because organized opposition has managed to sway City Council members’ votes.

The Weddington Road project, which would be built by the nonprofit Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, doesn’t have the flaws of some previous plans. It wouldn’t be built near another affordable housing complex, as a rejected 2010 project in Southwest Charlotte proposed. It also isn’t burdened with a questionable relationship between developers and the Charlotte Housing Authority, as was a Ballantyne project that was voted down earlier that year.

Both of those projects also faced vocal opposition, and a South Charlotte group already seems to be mobilizing against the Weddington Road plan. Opponents say the apartments would add to traffic congestion, but according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department staff, the complex would result in less traffic than a day care center that had previously been approved for the spot. The project also would result in either an estimated 13 additional students, according to CMS, or 45 students, according to the Housing Partnership. Neither number would be a real burden on area schools, as neighbors fear.

So who would live there? People making a maximum of 60 percent of area median income, or about $35,000 for a family of three. That’s a salary range that includes the teaching assistants we trust with our children, or entry level police officers. If that doesn’t fit the image of crime-ridden projects that destroy surrounding property values, there’s a reason: A lot of affordable housing is for people with low incomes but steady jobs, and research shows it has the least potential to hurt property values when it’s built in strong neighborhoods.

What such projects do bring are opportunities to find decent housing in thriving communities, something that’s in short supply for Charlotteans with low-paying jobs. The prospect of having those new neighbors may be unsettling to people in South Charlotte, but it shouldn’t be. And it shouldn’t be enough for council members to reject this proposal.

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