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Charlotte’s low-income housing plan faces test

Charlotte’s push to steer affordable housing to middle-class neighborhoods faces its latest test on Tuesday, as the City Council plans a rezoning vote that would allow 70 low-income apartments in a south Charlotte community.

Three years ago, the city adopted a new policy intended to redirect construction of low-income housing. The goal: to disperse subsidized housing from east and west Charlotte to areas where few, if any, such homes exist.

But the upcoming vote is expected to be close. Defeat would represent a setback for the city’s housing goals and expose shortcomings of the 3-year-old policy.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, the nonprofit developer, said the apartments at Weddington Road are needed for employees who already work at businesses in far southeast Charlotte. Currently, there are no such units in the area.

Julie Porter, president of the partnership, said prospective tenants drive a considerable distance to get to their jobs. “We hope this will cut down on time they travel,” Porter said. “These are service workers. They can’t afford to live near where they work.”

Neighbors have mounted fierce opposition. At a public hearing in December, nearly 300 people packed the council chambers, saying the project is unsuitable for the area. Many carried signs saying “Weddington Road Says No to the Rezone.”

Michael Kelley, homeowners association president of Willowmere, adjacent to the site, said the biggest problems are overwhelmed roads and sidewalks.

A nearby charter school, Socrates Academy, has also protested the rezoning. School officials have said they worry their parking lot will be used by apartment visitors.

“It all comes under the idea of infrastructure,” Kelley said. “This is an area that has developed rapidly like a lot of parts of Charlotte have. There just isn’t enough support for some of this higher density development.”

Tuesday’s vote comes after two other south Charlotte affordable housing projects drew strong opposition and were rejected by council members or thwarted by residents.

City Council’s District 7, which covers Ballantyne and other neighborhoods south of Pineville-Matthews Road, including the Weddington Road site, has no subsidized housing, according to the city.

The partnership wants to rezone 7.2 acres zoned for uses such as day care centers.

Almost all the apartments would be for what the city calls “workforce housing” aimed at families of four earning up to $38,500 a year, which is 60 percent of the area’s median income.

Seven apartments would be for families of four earning 30 percent of the median income, which is $19,250.

For the residents earning 60 percent of median income, Porter said the rents would range from $700 to $900 a month for two- and three-bedroom apartments. The cheaper two- and three-bedroom apartments would be between $450 and $650 a month.

Carley Ruff of the N.C. Housing Coalition in Raleigh said not-in-my-backyard complaints commonly accompany efforts to build low-income housing. Nearby residents often focus on a project’s negative impact to traffic rather than on having low-income workers nearby.

“It’s important to hear what neighbors have to say,” Ruff said. “But a lot of people aren’t familiar with what modern affordable housing is.”

She said federally subsidized apartments can be held to higher standards than market-rate complexes, with provisions such as background checks for residents.

“Typically there is an outcry, but after the project is built you don’t hear from the neighbors again,” she said.

New policy

The City Council last year approved an $816 million capital spending program that includes $60 million for affordable housing.

Pamela Wideman, housing services manager for the city of Charlotte, said the money should allow the city to build as many as 6,000 housing units through 2020 – if it can find suitable locations.

“Money won’t be the issue,” Wideman said. “The issue is acceptance. What we’re really trying to do is offer diverse types of housing so people can live close to employment centers.”

Changing the housing locational policy was a priority of former Mayor Anthony Foxx, who wanted to break up clusters of poverty. The policy tries to restrict the construction of subsidized housing in areas where it already exists.

But the policy is only a guideline for City Council members. City staff and elected officials have declined to consider creating what’s known as “mandatory inclusionary zoning.” That requires developers to include some affordable units in all developments.

The town of Davidson has such mandatory zoning, but it has been extremely controversial in Charlotte, in part because of pushback from developers, who say it will make their properties less marketable and more costly.

The city’s elected officials have also been divided on how to spend housing money.

In 2012, a city-hired consultant, Atlanta-based Noell Consultant Group, said the city’s biggest need is building housing for the very poorest residents. At the time, Foxx said the city could get “the biggest bang for its buck” by building housing for those earning 30 percent or less of the area median income of about $64,100.

The city recently helped support a $2.2 million expansion of Moore Place north of uptown, which houses chronically homeless residents.

The consultant said the city has a shortfall of more than 15,000 units for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income, but has a small surplus – roughly 10,000 units – for people earning more than 60 percent of area median income.

While there may be a surplus of so-called workforce housing, there are few of those apartments in south Charlotte’s affluent areas.

That is the so-called “workforce housing” that is targeted for Weddington Road.

Neighborhood opposition

Bringing low-income housing to middle class and affluent areas has been difficult.

• In February 2010, the Charlotte Housing Authority decided against pursuing a plan to build 86 low-income apartments at Providence Road West and Johnston Road.

Hundreds of residents protested. The project was also derailed by the revelation that a CHA employee was a business partner of the private developers who proposed the project.

• In fall 2010, the Housing Partnership attempted to build 90 subsidized apartments in the Ayrsley community in southwest Charlotte. Neighbors also opposed that project, which needed a waiver because it was within a half-mile of another subsidized development, Summerfield. Council members rejected the waiver.

• Other projects near affluent areas have stalled for other reasons. In 2007, the city used $2 million of Housing Trust Fund money to help subsidize a planned mixed-use development with affordable housing near the Scaleybark light-rail station.

Peter Pappas, the developer, hasn’t yet broken ground. He referred questions to the Housing Partnership, which he said is working on the affordable housing piece of the project.

• In early 2013, the City Council approved an incentive program that would allow developers to build more housing units than zoning allowed, as long as some of the apartments were for low-income workers.

This “density bonus” is seen as a way to encourage rather than require developers to build affordable housing. Wideman said the city has had some developers inquire about the proposal, but no one has asked to use it yet.


There have been some successes.

In September 2010, the City Council approved a redevelopment by the Charlotte Housing Authority of 17 acres that had housed its headquarters and other low-income housing off South Boulevard, adjacent to Dilworth.

Some residents opposed the project, saying the housing authority’s plan for 1.2 million square feet of office, housing and retail was too large for the site. Some of the residential units would be set aside for affordable housing.

Dilworth residents said they had no problem living adjacent to affordable housing, but objected to the authority plans for so much market-rate development, which would dwarf nearby homes.

And in 2009, the Charlotte Housing Authority was able to include 36 subsidized apartments in the 176-unit Ashley Square complex near SouthPark mall.

Porter, of the partnership, said her group expected opposition for the Weddington Road project.

“I don’t think we have been surprised,” Porter said. “I think we have been extremely prepared for what we assumed would be the reaction. We made sure that the property would meet all of the (city requirements).”

Porter said the partnership looked at some land in Matthews that was already zoned for apartments. But she said it wasn’t near a grocery store – an important requirement for securing federal tax credits that make the low-income units possible.

“We are constantly searching for property,” she said.

Approval recommended

City staff and the Planning Commission have recommended the Weddington Road project be approved.

Because neighbors have filed what’s known as a protest petition, the project needs nine of 12 council votes.

One council member, Democrat David Howard, has asked to be recused because he works for the Housing Partnership. That means if more than two council members vote no, the project dies.

Mayor Patrick Cannon will also be allowed to vote because of the protest petition.

Newly elected Republican Ed Driggs, who represents the area along Weddington Road, said he isn’t sure how he will vote.

“It’s a difficult decision clearly,” Driggs said.

He said he recognizes the city’s goal of dispersing low-income housing, but said he believes residential opposition must be considered.

“I think that their opposition gets short shrift,” Driggs said.

John Autry, who represents east Charlotte, said he will decide Tuesday how he will vote.

“I will wait and hear the information and make a decision then,” he said.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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