For the past five years, a top priority of the Charlotte City Council has been to disperse affordable housing across the city so it’s not concentrated in poor neighborhoods. But city leaders are finding it’s tough to stick with that goal, and some officials believe the focus should be on building housing quickly – no matter where it’s located.
The shift is being driven by rising rents and a belief that low-income workers are struggling to live inside the city limits.
But allowing subsidized housing to concentrate could lead to other problems, such as increasingly segregated schools.
Three weeks ago, council members approved a 198-unit subsidized apartment complex off Nations Ford Road and East Arrowood Road. Because there are already at least four other subsidized complexes within a half-mile of the intersection, city policy says it should be off limits for any new low-income housing.
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They will start going down and become very low-income housing with nothing but Section 8. We are very upset about it.
Gwendolyn Miller, who lives off Nations Ford Road near the site
Yet council members voted 6-4 in favor of a waiver for the Granite Pointe apartments, a decision that upset neighbors. They say they already have enough low-income housing nearby.
“Their policy says they would disperse the affordable housing throughout the city, and they absolutely did not do that,” said Virginia Keogh, president of the Southwest Charlotte Neighborhood Coalition. “(By approving the apartments) they will exacerbate the problems they are already having.”
The area near the site has higher rates of violent crime and property crime than the city average, and also a greater percentage of subsidized housing than the city overall.
The Sept. 12 discussion also signaled that some council members are willing to move away from what’s known as Charlotte’s housing “locational policy,” which seeks to spread out affordable housing. Some appeared more concerned with building more subsidized housing as quickly as possible, even if it’s in an area that has been deemed off limits.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts referred the five-year-old policy to a committee – a possible first step for it to be revised or reversed entirely. During the debate, she noted a study that said the city needs 34,000 affordable housing units.
Gwendolyn Miller, who lives off Nations Ford Road near the site, said the apartment complex will likely be nice when it’s first built. But she believes it won’t be maintained over the years, with rents falling.
“They will start going down and become very low-income housing with nothing but Section 8,” she said. “We are very upset about it.”
The Granite Pointe Apartments are for people earning 60 percent of the area’s median income, which is $28,140 for one person or $40,200 for a family of four.
The city has called that “workforce housing” for teachers, police and firefighters.
Miller said she doesn’t believe that. She said the entry salary for all of those jobs is more than $28,000, and she believes the people living there will be less affluent than the city claims.
More units promised
In the wake of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting, council members appear even more committed to building affordable housing.
All 11 council members said in a letter Monday that they would focus on building more affordable housing in response to protesters and community concerns. A lack of affordable housing has been mentioned as a problem in the African-American community, though during the Scott protests most people have spoken out against what they see as police misconduct – not a need for more housing.
The council’s previous goal was to build 5,000 units in five years. The new goal accelerates that to 5,000 units in three years.
The city hasn’t come close to building 5,000 subsidized units in five years, much less three years. In the past 14 years, the city has financed 5,500 affordable units and completed 4,640.
“We have to figure out what we want,” said land-use attorney Collin Brown, who represents developers requesting the council rezone land. “Do we want 5,000 units? Or is the goal getting units where we have good infrastructure, where we have good schools?”
Brown said if the city’s goal is to build 5,000 units quickly, “it will be in areas where land costs are low.”
If we use the policy to say that it never has exceptions, we are not going to be able to do anything about affordable housing in the community. I don’t want to live in a community where only the very poor or very rich can live.
Vi Lyles, the mayor pro tem
At the Sept. 12 council meeting where the Granite Pointe complex was approved, six council members voted in favor of the waiver: Republicans Ed Driggs and Kenny Smith, and Democrats Gregg Phipps, Vi Lyles, Julie Eiselt and Patsy Kinsey.
“If we use the policy to say that it never has exceptions, we are not going to be able to do anything about affordable housing in the community,” said Lyles, the mayor pro tem. “I don’t want to live in a community where only the very poor or very rich can live.”
Democrat James Mitchell said at the Sept. 12 meeting that affordable housing “should be a shared responsibility.”
Said Democrat John Autry: “I understand what it means when a community has been put upon enough.”
But it appears there is some momentum to change the city’s locational policy to clear the way for more affordable housing.
Other waivers granted
Even before the Sept. 12 vote – and the commitment to build more housing after the Scott shooting – council members have often granted waivers so more subsidized housing could be built in areas that, according to the city, already have enough.
In 2015, council members approved a waiver for the 112-unit, subsidized Allen Street apartments in Belmont – a neighborhood that wasn’t supposed to get any more low-income housing. Neighbors opposed the project.
Vicki Jones, president of the Belmont Community Association, said the neighborhood was frustrated that council members weren’t following their policy.
“We wanted to let the city know they needed to stick with their policy and disperse housing,” she said.
That same year, council members also approved a low-income housing project for Cherry, another neighborhood that was designated off-limits. (In the Cherry project, some neighbors supported the waiver because they worried the neighborhood was gentrifying; other neighbors opposed the apartments because of the added density to the neighborhood.)
Council members have twice rejected subsidized apartments off Harrisburg Road, which is an area that the city said should have more affordable housing. In the most recent vote, which was a 5-5 tie in April, Roberts cast the deciding vote against the project.
Roberts voted against the project because she said it needed the city’s full backing to succeed.
The city’s record in bringing affordable housing to affluent areas has been mixed.
The city had hopes that developers would use a “density bonus” that would allow them to build more units than zoning allowed if some of their extra units were affordable. No one has used the bonus.
The City Council in January 2014 approved a rezoning for low-income apartments on Weddington Road, despite neighborhood opposition. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership recently received state tax credits for the project and hopes to start construction next year.