Here are 5 big moves Charlotte needs to make in affordable housing, advocates say

Construction work continued on senior affordable housing at The Landing at Park Road on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.
Construction work continued on senior affordable housing at The Landing at Park Road on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.

When the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force released its long-awaited report Monday on how to improve economic mobility for the city’s poor, affordable housing was one of the areas with the most concrete recommendations.

Rent is rising fast – up 35 percent in five years – while average wages aren’t keeping pace. Charlotte City Council set a goal of either building or preserving 5,000 affordable housing units in the next three years (Which can include existing units that aren’t demolished, so it won’t necessarily increase the total number).

The city’s estimated shortfall in affordable housing over the next several decades: 34,000 units.

“The Task Force applauds these actions, but the reality is we will never make a significant impact in the deficit unless we set bolder goals,” the group wrote of the city’s goal.

So, to help reach that goal, the task force is proposing that Charlotte vastly increase the amount of money it spends every two years on affordable housing bonds. The bonds, approved by voters and funded through local taxes, provide financing for developers seeking to build affordable housing.

Currently, that amount is set at $15 million every two years – an amount widely seen as inadequate. The task force’s recommendation: Increase that more than three-fold, to $50 million in affordable housing bonds every two years.

Here are some other recommendations from the group:

▪ Explore and advocate for so-called “mandatory inclusionary zoning,” a policy that would require a certain percentage of new units in every development be set aside as affordable. That’s not allowed under North Carolina law, and would face fierce opposition from the real estate and development industries.

“We should continue to advocate for a policy change at the state level,” the report says, “But we should not count on it as an option available at the local level in our near-term future.”

▪ Use excess publicly owned land for new affordable housing, a strategy that Mecklenburg County is using as part of the Brooklyn Village redevelopment plan.

▪ Create a new investment fund with private partners to develop more affordable housing, and explore more tax incentives and other strategies to encourage it.

▪ Increase the amount of money spent on rental subsidy vouchers.

▪ Create a community land trust to help low-income families buy homes and build wealth. This could include deed restrictions that control the resale price of a house (A strategy in use in other cities, such as Boston).

You can read the full report online here.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo