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Why we’re voting yes on Charlotte’s affordable housing bonds, despite our concerns

Charlotte spent millions on low-income housing, but poor people can’t afford it

Over the last 16 years, the city of Charlotte has spent or committed $124 million to affordable housing. Next month, city leaders will ask voters for $50 million more. But the money hasn’t helped people like Curtis Simpson.
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Over the last 16 years, the city of Charlotte has spent or committed $124 million to affordable housing. Next month, city leaders will ask voters for $50 million more. But the money hasn’t helped people like Curtis Simpson.

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Good news/bad news facing Charlotte: We’re growing faster than a large-breed puppy. That means new jobs, a booming economy and entertainment options galore. It also means booming needs – building and maintaining streets and bridges and sidewalks and housing and neighborhoods.

All that costs money. Voters this election are being asked to provide it. Not all of it at once, but enough to cover for now some of the basic nuts and bolts of maintaining a growing city. Three bond referendums are on the ballot. We think two are no-brainers and deserve support. The other is a closer call but deserves voters’ support as well.

Affordable housing

Let’s tackle the trickiest one first. The City Council is asking voters to authorize $50 million for investments in affordable housing through the city’s Housing Trust Fund. That’s more than triple the amount the city has sought in previous years.

The bigger number reflects the council’s relatively new-found understanding of the city’s paucity of affordable housing as rents rocket. The commitment is a central plank of the council’s plan for addressing this city’s poor economic mobility and of its response to the unrest that followed the Keith Lamont Scott shooting two years ago.

The need is undeniable, the money is vital and the private sector is already making sizable commitments of its own to pair with the potential bonds.

So what’s tricky about it?

The City Council to this point has not used most of its Housing Trust Fund money to help those who need it most: our city’s poorest, those making less than 30 percent of the area’s median income. Much of the money has gone to subsidize developers building housing for people making much closer to average income. Consultants and data have shown that the real housing shortage is for the very poorest, but it’s hard to make those projects attractive to developers, and the city has not done so.

It must be more aggressive about helping the neediest, and the fact it hasn’t makes us hesitate to support this bond request. But we do support it, because the need is so great and the money is essential to addressing it. Blocking any money from going to the trust fund will only make the affordable housing problem worse. We’ll vote yes, and strongly urge Mayor Vi Lyles — who has been nearly dismissive of these concerns — and the council to follow through on their promise to also be attentive to those who need help the most.

The other bonds

Voters should embrace the other two bonds – $118 million for streets, bridges, sidewalks and the like, and $55 million for neighborhoods. The projects this money would pay for are detailed at www.voteyesforbonds.com. They are the kinds of basic investments required for a livable city. The current tax rate already accounts for them, so passage (or rejection) would not change the tax rate. This is the third of four installments in a community investment plan the council approved in 2013.

Voters should vote yes for all three bonds – and hold the city accountable on affordable housing.

You can see all the Observer editorial board’s endorsements in one place here.

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