This group has a $5 million plan for Charlotte affordable housing. Here's the catch.

Veteran struggles to maintain affordable housing

Richard Simmons, 72, of Matthews tells Charlotte City Council that he wants to put a face on the data that show rents are rising in the Charlotte area.
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Richard Simmons, 72, of Matthews tells Charlotte City Council that he wants to put a face on the data that show rents are rising in the Charlotte area.

Mayor Vi Lyles said she hoped the private sector would help solve Charlotte's shortage of affordable housing, and one foundation is stepping up.

The Foundation for the Carolinas, the nation’s sixth-largest community foundation, announced this week a $5 million investment fund to increase the number of homes available for people living in poverty.

The move comes in response to rising housing costs in Charlotte.

Charlotte’s average rent has climbed 36 percent over the past five years, reaching its current high of $1,142. Housing sale prices grew as well, with the median price now at $235,000.

Concerns about the city’s lack of upward mobility and affordable housing have escalated as Charlotte’s population continues to grow. A 2014 study ranked 50 of the country's largest cities by economic mobility, and Charlotte was last.

In response to the study, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force released a report in 2017 detailing ways to help people living in poverty. One recommendation was increasing access to affordable housing.

Brian Collier, executive vice president of the Foundation for the Carolinas, told the Observer the guidelines for the fund have not been decided yet, but it will likely target those making 30 percent of the area median income and above. He said he hopes a broad range of income levels will benefit.

The $5 million investment from the foundation is contingent on the passing of a bond referendum that would add $50 million to the Housing Trust Fund, which subsidizes low-income housing. The fund typically receives $15 million in voter-approved bonds every two years. Last month, Lyles announced the plan to ask voters to raise that number to $50 million in November. The City Council hasn't yet approved putting the bond referendum on the ballot.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, in town for Bank of America's annual meeting, emphasized access capital, jobs that pay, affordable housing and healthcare in helping to improve upward mobility in Charlotte.

If the referendum doesn’t pass, the foundation's investment won’t happen. But Collier said he is optimistic.

“The community has a good track record when it comes to bonds in general,” he said. “But I think on an issue like this, I think most people are going to understand that we have to do something, that this is not the solution but part of an overall solution that will have a big impact.”

The possible investment of $5 million is just the beginning. The foundation expects that others will join and put money into the fund, and they hope to match the amount from the city — $50 million.

Deronda Metz is the director of the Center of Hope, a homeless shelter in uptown Charlotte for women and families. She said she’s confident the bonds will pass too, and she was excited to hear about the foundation’s planned investment.

“I get the opportunity to talk with them a lot, and they understand the challenges,” Metz said. “They call us to find out what people need, so I'm just thrilled about it. And hopefully they'll be an example for some other folks to follow.”

Staff writer Tim Funk contributed.

Leah Asmelash: 704-358-5590; @asmeleah