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Free land and a $20 million pledge: Big, new plans for affordable housing in Charlotte

Charlotte’s efforts to build more affordable housing got a boost Monday, with the announcement of large donations from two local companies.

Developer Crescent Communities is putting up land for affordable housing at a new mega-development in west Charlotte, while Wells Fargo pledged $20 million to groups that build housing and help homeowners with down payment assistance. Monday’s announcement comes as Charlotte is grappling with years of rising rent, soaring home prices and increasing pressure on low-income residents trying to pay for a place to live.

Voters will decide in November whether to approve a $50 million bond issue from the city of Charlotte that would subsidize more affordable housing construction. That’s more than triple the city’s usual $15 million Housing Trust Fund bond issue.

“With the announcement of our bond referendum, the city signaled that we were ‘all-in’ in support of increased access to affordable housing,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, in a statement Monday.

But the city still faces daunting challenges.

Both average rent and home prices are up about a third in the past five years. Almost all of the 27,000 apartments planned or under construction will be “luxury” units targeting upscale renters, while some 13,000 older apartments have been purchased by investors in recent years and renovated to reap higher rents.

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Meanwhile, Mecklenburg County has a shortage of at least 22,000 affordable housing units. The need is heavily concentrated among the lowest income renters, people making 50 percent or less than the area’s median income, which often includes low-wage jobs such as retail and food-service workers.

Here are the details of each donation:

Crescent Communities, which develops upscale apartments, office buildings, hotels and stores, is giving away 4.5 acres valued at $2 million at the new River District development planned west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. That development, which would be larger than Ballantyne when fully built, includes plans for about 5,000 residences.

Crescent will donate the land near a future intersection of West Boulevard and Dixie River Road to a subsidiary of Foundation For The Carolinas. Laurel Street Residential, a locally-based affordable housing developer, will build 124 apartments on the site reserved for low-income residents. Twenty percent, or about 25 units, will be reserved for people making 30 percent or less of the area’s median income. That’s about $21,200 for a family of four.

“We share Crescent Communities’ vision for the River District as a diverse, inclusive destination, and we’re thrilled to be a partner,” said Dionne Nelson, CEO of Laurel Street. The apartments are planned to open in late 2021.

“Access to affordable housing is key to reducing economic disparity, but creating affordable housing continues to be a challenge in our area due to a number of factors, including the cost of land,” said Crescent Communities CEO Todd Mansfield. “Crescent Communities is proud to join this movement to increase access to affordable housing.”

Wells Fargo announced several different grants to boost affordable housing. Those include $6 million to expand the NeighborhoodLIFT program, which offers down payment assistance to low-income purchasers in the Charlotte region, and $3 million per year for 2018-2020 for local groups that offer aid with affordable housing, small business development, neighborhood revitalization and workforce training.

The bank pledged $5 million for the Foundation For The Carolina’s Housing Opportunity Investment Fund, which is meant to be a private source of funds to augment the city’s Housing Trust Fund bonds. The foundation announced the fund this year with a $5 million starting investment. Their goal is to raise $50 million, matching the $50 million housing bonds and providing another source of funds to subsidize affordable housing development.

“We require multiple approaches to meet the need,” said Michael Marsicano, the foundation’s CEO. “Wells Fargo has initiated a handful of creative strategies backed with great corporate generosity.”

Wells Fargo said a previous $5.5 million matching down payment assistance grant program helped 312 people become homeowners in Charlotte.

“We believe we should do everything in our power to make this community better for everyone,” said Kendall Alley, the bank’s regional president.

Portillo: 704-358-5041