Affordable housing solutions debated by Mecklenburg commissioners

Mecklenburg County commissioners took up affordable housing Wednesday as a UNC Charlotte report offered possible solutions to a complex and thorny problem.

Wages aren’t keeping up with rising housing prices, said the report from UNCC’s Urban Institute. Median rent in the county is 11 percent higher than in 2005, while median household income dropped 7 percent.

Most low-income renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income for a place to live. A Charlotte population that grows by an average of 109 people a day only compounds the problem.

Chair Trevor Fuller, who often laments economic inequality, said he’s weary of talk about solving those problems.

“One of the messages I believe from the (presidential) election was that people are tired of hearing people talk,” he said. “It frustrates me because everyone has a plan for providing affordable housing, but I don’t see any steps to do it. I hear this being bandied about all the time but I don’t see any results.”

The UNCC report was discussed last week at a Charlotte City Council forum.

It says solutions will have to blend financial aspects, such as the availability of land on which to build affordable housing, with the problem of keeping housing affordable for the long term.

Mecklenburg County could take part in three potential solutions: Inventory county-owned land that could be used for affordable housing; award tax grants to reimburse developers who build such housing; and expedite processing of building permits to reduce development costs.

Vice chair Dumont Clarke suggested a fourth idea to be discussed at commissioners’ annual retreat in January: Dedicate a half-cent from the county property tax, or about $6 million a year, to Charlotte’s Housing Trust Fund, which finances affordable housing for low-income families.

Mecklenburg County now spends more than $15 million a year on homeless and housing stability programs.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender