Should City Council get tougher on asking for affordable housing in new developments?

An elevation of proposed South End apartments filed as part of Pollack Shores’ rezoning petition.
An elevation of proposed South End apartments filed as part of Pollack Shores’ rezoning petition.

A City Council member pushed for more affordable housing at Charlotte’s zoning meeting Monday, part of a discussion that’s been swirling around the edges of the city’s record boom in new apartment construction.

City Council was discussing Pollack Shores’ plans to build a 350-unit apartment building on Tremont Avenue in South End, on a site between Tryon and Hawkins streets that’s currently zoned for industrial use. They’ll vote on the project at an upcoming meeting.

LaWana Mayfield, a Democrat who represents the area, asked if the developer has any plans for affordable units included as part of the development. Although City Council can’t legally require developers to include affordable units in new projects, Mayfield frequently inquires about them, and some, such as Synco Properties in SouthPark, have agreed voluntarily to include a percentage of affordable or “workforce” housing.

When Jeff Brown, an attorney representing the developer, said there hadn’t been discussions about including affordable units, Mayfield said she is concerned about the direction new development is taking. There are almost 13,000 apartments under construction in Charlotte and a similar number on the drawing board, most of them upscale units targeting affluent renters.

“We really need to look at what is the impact of this multifamily,” said Mayfield. “A lot of people are afraid of the m-word, a moratorium, but we have to look at how we’re growing this city.”

Mayfield said she’s concerned about low-income residents like those in nearby Brookhill Village – which is being partially demolished to make way for new development – being pushed out.

“We’ve seen that growth in South End, but I have a concern that it’s not sustainable as a community with all the multifamily. We really need to have a conversation where staff brings some real options to the table,” said Mayfield.

And though she said her comments aren’t an attack on the Pollack Shores plan, Mayfield made it clear that she would like to talk with the developers about including affordable multifamily housing.

“It would be very difficult to see yet another multifamily project that comes in that does not meet the greater good of the community,” she said.

Mayfield asked for the issue to be referred to City Council’s housing and neighborhood development committee, and Mayor Jennifer Roberts agreed.

Despite the fact that state law doesn’t give the city much leeway in terms of requiring affordable units – and the city’s voluntary “density bonus” allowing more units in exchange for some of the being marked off as affordable has hardly any takers – this issue isn’t likely to go away. That’s because rent is still going up. In March, apartment tracking firm Real Data showed rent averaged $1,011 in Charlotte, up from $938 at the same time a year ago.

What do you think City Council should do?

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo