Firm may aid Charlotte's affordable housing efforts

A New York-based community investment firm is considering using its resources to build affordable housing here.

Officials from the Local Initiative Support Corp. will visit Charlotte this month to assess whether its services and programs would be a good fit.

City officials hope the investor might decide to help the five city-funded community development corporations – mostly neighborhood-based nonprofit volunteer groups that together produced 21 units of affordable housing in a year – become volume builders, or something closer to that.

But officials at the five nonprofits, all located in low- to moderate-income communities, question whether being a volume builder fits their mission.

“There should not be any CDC that does not see itself as a developer of rooftops,” said Dave Nichols, Lakewood CDC's executive director and a resident there since 1997. “But it is not a developer exclusively.

“The beauty of the whole concept of community development corporations is that they are community based and that they are positioned to respond to find resources and direct programs in response to the community's needs,” Nichols said. “That is a holistic approach to revitalizing neighborhoods. It's not just about the houses. It's about the people.”

Heavy demand

Local officials expect that by 2010 the demand among the working poor for affordable housing will exceed the supply by 17,000 units, according to Chris Wolf, executive director, A Way Home.

The city created the Charlotte Neighborhood Development Fund in 1996 to assist in revitalizing their neighborhoods through CDCs.

The city invests $300,000 a year in its Neighborhood Development Fund. Federally certified CDCs share the money, $60,000 each, for operating costs.

The city also allocates approximately $500,000 in federal HOME funds annually to certified CDCs for housing development projects.

The nonprofits are also are responsible for economic development, job creation and social services.

Charlotte funds CDCs in Belmont and Lakewood, said Stan Wilson, housing services division manager for Charlotte's Neighborhood Development Department.

City West CDC serves communities near West Boulevard. Friendship Missionary Baptist Church's CDC and the Northwest Corridor CDC, housed at Johnson C. Smith University, serve communities along Beatties Ford Road.

The CDCs often work with the city's other partners to build single-family homes or rental housing or other projects. Investors can help meet their corporate and regulatory investment goals by becoming partners with CDCs.

‘They bring money'

Successful revitalization projects can become catalysts for other projects.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess said she saw large areas in Indianapolis transformed by the work of CDCs. LISC has been active as a partner with CDCs in Indianapolis.

“I believe our CDCs have more potential,” said Burgess, chair of Charlotte's Housing and Neighborhood Development Committee. “We want to give them the support that they need to be successful, and we want to maximize our investment.”

Burgess said LISC could become an intermediary to help Charlotte's CDCs discover more development potential.

“They bring money to the table,” she said of LISC. “They are a resource of how to get things done.”

LISC, established in 1979 by the Ford Foundation, has helped 2,800 community groups build or rehabilitate more than 215,000 affordable homes around the country.

The corporation also helped develop 3 million square feet of retail, community and educational space.

But in Charlotte, CDCs face more urgent challenges than productivity.

Friendship CDC is searching for a new executive director. The Northwest Corridor CDC hired one, Guerdon Stuckey, last month.

City West has been without an executive director for two or three years and has only four board members, said Executive Director Harriette Mahoney The group wants to recruit about 10 more board members.

“We're only funding five, and (looking) at the number that are going to have new directors in place, we're in a bit of a transition,” Wilson said. “It could slow things down until they get acclimated.”

All the directors said their mission is broader than building houses. They said Habitat for Humanity and similar groups serve that purpose.

“If all they want is rooftops, then they do not want to build homeowners through the neighborhood, which requires housing counseling, credit repair, (training on) how to maintain a home,” Nichols said. “That's the process that goes before the building. That's what we're here for.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer