Private donations for affordable housing in Charlotte exceed goals

A wave of donations has pushed past a $50 million goal to raise private-sector money for improving access to affordable housing in Charlotte, and to fund a separate housing endowment, the Foundation for the Carolinas said Thursday.

Meeting both goals means that more than $250 million in public and private money has been committed since spring 2018 to help low-income people live in a prosperous city. Mecklenburg County has a nearly 36,000-unit deficit of affordable housing for those residents, the city says.

Recent donations helped the foundation exceed a goal of raising $50 million in private money to match the $50 million in public money that voters approved last November to develop more affordable housing. The city plans to seek another $50 million in the next bond referendum in November 2020, according to the current budget.

A $6 million pledge from Novant Health to the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund, which the foundation launched in May 2018 with a $5 million grant, increased commitments to $53 million. Duke Energy gave $2 million and the Howard R. Levine Foundation granted $1 million.

“There is a critical link between stable, decent and affordable housing and positive health outcomes,” Novant CEO Carl Armato said in a statement. “So with this investment, we’re pleased to take a meaningful step toward improving the health of those who need it most to make a real impact in Charlotte as we strive to address social determinants of health and improve access to care in all of our communities.”

The private fund will be managed by Local Initiatives Support Corp., a New York-based nonprofit that manages affordable housing funds, in tandem with the city’s public Housing Trust Fund to finance new housing and upgrade existing homes. In July, Charlotte City Council allocated $12.8 million from the public fund to build or renovate complexes totaling 950 units.

Additional campaign

A $20 million campaign for A Way Home, a partnership between the foundation and the city, also went over its goal with a $250,000 gift from the Moore & Van Allen law firm. The Leon Levine Foundation granted $5 million grant and the Howard R. Levine Foundation $1 million. Their gifts capped $26 million raised for the endowment.

A Way Home subsidizes rents and provides related support for previously homeless families.

“I’m proud to support a housing initiative, among others, that is making a real difference,” Leon Levine said in a statement. “A Way Home provides a hand up for homeless families. The fact that 75% of those families that complete the program remain in stable housing on their own shows real success.”

In addition to those campaigns, the Local Initiatives Support Corp. has pledged $25 million toward affordable housing in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County has budgeted $15 million for rent subsidies.

Improving the availability of affordable housing was one of the recommendations in a 2017 report on uneven access to economic opportunity, which followed a blistering national study that ranked Charlotte lowest among large U.S. cities.

“Housing alone doesn’t solve that — you’ve got to get incomes up so you don’t have to have subsidies,” Foundation for the Carolinas CEO Michael Marsicano said in an interview. “I’ve been stunned by how many philanthropists, corporations and individuals are moving their money earmarked for donations to those (report) recommendations. ... We’re working at this on all sort of levels. Having said that, it’s going to take years.”

Marsicano said he believes the community’s commitment to acting on the recommendations is lasting. But raising more than $250 million for affordable housing in a little more than a year took some creativity by both the foundation and donors.

The foundation turned to an approach, relatively new to Charlotte, called “impact investing” to maximize private dollars for affordable housing. The approach invites donors to commit much larger sums than they normally would and to accept nominal returns on the money, with the excess leveraging more investment in the core mission.

About $104 million was also committed outside the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund, including land donations and reduced-lending rates. In January, Bank of America, Ally Financial and Barings announced a $70 million commitment that included $50 million in low-interest loans to private developers who build income-restricted housing.

Donors and housing advocates also produced new ideas, Marsicano said.

When the owners of Brooks’ Sandwich House donated 3 acres in east Charlotte to Habitat for Humanity, he said, the housing nonprofit decided that building 18 to 24 town homes on the site would help more people than individual houses.

Bruce Henderson writes about transportation, emerging issues and interesting people for The Charlotte Observer. His reporting background is in covering energy, environment and state news.