Charlotte Democratic Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles blasted Republican council member Ed Driggs for engaging in what she called “political tricks” over his proposal to use money slated for Bojangles’ Coliseum improvements for affordable housing.
Lyles, who is running for mayor, said if Driggs is concerned about affordable housing, he should support it for his council district, which covers much of south Charlotte.
“Ask yourself, when republicans that refuse to support public housing in their districts try to exploit the issue, what’s the real motivation?” she wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning, one of several rapid-fire messages about the issue.
The city is planning to spend $18.5 million on a new building that will connect Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium. It will create more bathrooms and meeting space for the two venues.
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The City Council and Mayor Jennifer Roberts all agree the project is worthwhile.
The question is how to pay for it.
The city’s plan is to use money from a $900 million bond package approved by council members and voters.
Driggs proposed using hotel/motel tax money instead, which is restricted by state law for tourism projects. Since Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium are tourism venues, Driggs said it made sense to use those funds.
The money from the bond package could be used for other things, including affordable housing.
Council members rejected his proposal in a 5-4 vote.
Lyles voted against it.
Affordable housing developers rarely propose building in Driggs’ district, which covers much of the city south of Interstate 485. But in January 2014, the City Council approved a rezoning requested by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership for subsidized apartments on Weddington Road, which have yet to be built.
Driggs and fellow Republican Kenny Smith voted against that project.
Lyles also suggested that Driggs’ plan would delay the Bojangles’ Coliseum improvements.
“The eastside deserves quality amenities & shouldn’t have to wait. We must revive the eastside, bring back jobs and development,” Lyles wrote on Twitter.
But that isn’t necessarily true.
Driggs’ proposal would have allowed council members to authorize spending $1.65 million immediately with Odell Associates and Barnhill Contracting Company to start work on the project.
City staff said council members could have discussed over the next several weeks whether to use hotel/motel taxes for the project, without it falling behind schedule.
Building more affordable housing was a key part of council’s “Letter to the Community” written after the Keith Lamont Scott protest and riots in September.
Lyles said the funding debate is “not an either/or – we have funds available to move forward with affordable housing as promised, while following through with our promise to the residents on the eastside.”
It’s possible that the city could fulfill the Letter to the Community’s goal of building 5,000 affordable housing units in three years. But the city and Lyles have repeatedly said the problem is larger than that, and that the city needs more than 30,000 new affordable housing units.
The city is unlikely to build those units in the next decade without more money or a new plan.
At Monday’s meeting, Driggs suggested the city could use the $18.5 million to create a new program that might offer people housing subsidies.
State Sen. Joel Ford, a Democrat who is also running for mayor, criticized Democratic Mayor Jennifer Roberts over her role in the debate.
As mayor, Roberts managed the lengthy debate. She suggested council members could follow Driggs’ plan, though she did not urge her colleagues to vote yes or no on the issue.
“Just so we are clear @CLTMayor could have vetoed the measure showing some real leadership which would have then taken 7 votes to override!” Ford wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
Though Ford criticized Roberts, the mayor could not have vetoed the council action because a mayor can’t veto a council action that has already failed.
Ford also wrote, “What happened to that ‘Letter to the Community’ pledging to build more affordable housing create good paying jobs & improve police relations?”
Earlier this year, Roberts urged council members to take an unusual step of diverting money from the sale of city-owned land on West Tyvola Road to the Housing Trust Fund, rather than placing it in the general fund, which was common practice.
Republican council member Kenny Smith, who is also running for mayor, supported Driggs’ proposal. At Monday’s meeting, he spoke glowingly about Bojangles’ Coliseum, and said the new building would keep the facility up to date.
But in December 2014, Smith was the only council members to vote against spending $16 million to improve the arena.