They looked like an unstoppable bunch: Charlotte’s most influential leaders came together almost two years ago and vowed to wipe out chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.
As recently as this summer, organizers announced they were securing land off Wilkinson Boulevard and that construction of an apartment complex for the hard-core homeless would begin soon.
Since then, though, the effort to build a second Moore Place died quietly, and the autopsy reveals what a persistently hard time Charlotte is having in addressing one of its most enduring challenges. Even this powerful group of leaders couldn’t overcome the not-in-my-backyard crowd.
Here’s what happened specifically. In January 2015, Charlotte leaders announced their plan to eliminate chronic homelessness within two years. All the powers-that-be were on board: the banks, the Foundation for the Carolinas, uptown leaders, the city and county, top charities and others.
A central element of their strategy was building an apartment building that would house 120 chronically homeless people and support them with the services they would need to succeed. Moore Place, which opened in 2012 in the Druid Hills neighborhood, had demonstrated the efficacy of such an effort.
The Urban Ministry Center, led by Dale Mullennix, started looking for potential locations. The group examined a dozen or so sites before settling on the old Park-N-Shop on Wilkinson. It was nearly perfect: It was zoned correctly, the land was affordable, it sat near public transportation, there was a grocery nearby.
Mullennix told the editorial board this week that Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield, who represents the area, agreed it was a good location for the project. With that, he launched Crescent Communities on doing due diligence and preparing to break ground.
Mayfield told us that she did not have initial concerns, but she didn’t commit to anything without hearing from neighbors. And neighbors were adamantly opposed. She and neighbors then told Mullennix they did not want the project there.
About 125 neighbors attended a final meeting and it did not go well. “We had an hour and a half of people yelling. They were afraid we were bringing drug dealers and criminals to the neighborhood. It’s the same stuff you always hear,” Mullennix said.
With Mayfield chairing the relevant City Council committee, the project probably couldn’t get housing trust fund money without her support. So the more than two dozen partners in the Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg group abandoned the site. They are not giving up on building another Moore Place, but they are mostly focused on placing chronically homeless people in individual apartments across the city.
The episode illustrates the issue’s complexity. Mayfield argues, correctly, that it’s important to disperse such projects throughout the city. The proposed area is already fragile, while more stable parts of the city regularly avoid hosting such facilities.
At the same time, Moore Place has mostly been a model neighbor and shows the power of a single site. Nurses, psychiatrists and other social workers are all on site and residents have intense support. Individuals scattered about don’t have that.
Mayfield and the neighbors near Wilkinson delivered a big blow to housing the homeless. But Mullennix will continue to push the boulder up the hill.
He has a new goal: Housing all these people by the end of 2017. Accomplishing it now, though, doesn’t seem so inevitable.