Economic mobility – or the almost total lack of it for the working poor – is one of the most pressing problems facing Charlotte.
The surest path to economic stability, we believe, is affordable housing. We’re not diminishing the importance of education – it’s essential – but when a single parent (usually a mom) has to move each time the rent goes up, her children’s schooling is disrupted.
Predictable housing costs lead to stability in a vulnerable population that’s one missed paycheck away from homelessness.
The people who need affordable housing are people you probably come in contact with regularly. They may drive your kids to school or work as teachers’ aides or as grocery store clerks. Others work on assembly lines or at warehouses. They’re the people who can’t seem to catch a break.
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A 2015 UNC Charlotte Urban Institute study showed the city has a significant number of “cost-burdened” families (those paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities). Nearly half of renter households were cost-burdened, and 27 percent of owner-occupied households were.
Consider this: Someone making $20,000 a year has pre-tax monthly income of $1,666. And the median monthly rent in Charlotte is now more than $1,000. You can see the utter futility of trying to budget the remaining $600 for health care, food, clothing, child care, insurance, transportation and other expenses.
That should matter to all of us. Children in stable housing do better in school. Families that live in homes they don’t have to struggle to afford have more dollars for things many of us take for granted.
A healthy mix of housing options (from market rate to affordable rental housing, single-family homes, duplexes and senior housing) is good for the entire community. Both the Housing Opportunity Foundation (the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association’s charitable arm) and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (CMHP) work to ensure citizens have access to safe housing in neighborhoods that support independence and opportunity.
So, we’re excited to join forces Friday for Realtors Care Day, an annual Housing Opportunity Foundation initiative designed to help deserving homeowners with costly, but critical, exterior home repairs. This year, while 500 Realtor volunteers are helping homeowners from Pineville to Statesville, another army of more than 200 will begin a massive clean-up/rehab blitz in a neighborhood near the center city. Those Realtors will zero in on Druid Hills, a mostly low-income neighborhood of historic significance.
Realtor volunteers will paint, landscape and clear common-area debris, paving the way for subsequent CMHP efforts aimed at the revitalization and stabilization of this neighborhood near uptown.
Druid Hills, like First Ward and Wesley Heights before it, is geographically positioned to be part of the booming growth in and near uptown. It’s a community filled with strong churches, available land for new construction and strong leadership among its residents. From its earliest days in the 1940s, it’s been a diverse neighborhood. It still is.
It’s a mostly low-income neighborhood, but it’s a high-quality neighborhood. Residents, many of them elderly, look out for each other. They participate in the neighborhood association, and they’re taking an active role in securing the future of their community. These are working people – hard-working people – who have a sense of pride in their community but don’t always have the means or physical ability to make needed repairs.
Economic stability shouldn’t be an impossible dream for people who work hard. And a place to call one’s own – that doesn’t consume an entire monthly paycheck – shouldn’t be out of reach.
Anne Marie Decatsye is CEO of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association/CarolinaMLS. Julie Porter is president of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership.