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Here’s how the county may spend millions on rent subsidies for those ‘stuck’ in shelters

Benches on North Tryon are part of the homeless population's turf due to the lack of affordable housing.
Benches on North Tryon are part of the homeless population's turf due to the lack of affordable housing.

A trio of proposals to use Mecklenburg County’s $11 million allocation for rental subsidies would target those most in need of housing, including people who are very low-income, elderly, chronically homeless or experiencing domestic violence.

MeckHOME would house nearly 900 people over four years with short-term rental subsidies and case management, county commissioners learned this week. The program is modeled after A Way Home, which provides two-year rental subsidies to low-income families with an endowment through the Foundation for the Carolinas, though it would also serve single men and women.

“These are people who are in the gap between needing permanently subsidized housing and being able to find their way out of homelessness by themselves,” said Judy Seldin-Cohen, board chair of A Way Home.

The $6.3 million request would team up the Salvation Army, Men’s Shelter of Charlotte/Urban Ministry Center, and youth-focused nonprofit The Relatives to house single residents, families, and young adults with incomes at or below 30% of the area median income. That’s $16,600 for a single person or $23,700 for a family of four.

Subsidies would cover the gap between market rate rent and what a household can pay. Rent payment and case management costs are estimated at $12,700 per household.

“This is a balance between acting quickly in the crisis we are in now and spending public money responsibly to achieve positive outcomes,” Seldin-Cohen said.

Provisions such as master leasing — where organizations sign leases rather than individual tenants — could ease landlord concerns about tenants with barriers to housing like criminal convictions or bad credit.

A separate $2.1 million request would maybe would give rent subsidies to another 168 seniors and people with disabilities to move out of the men’s shelter and Salvation Army shelter until they come off a subsidized housing waiting list. A third proposal from the county’s Community Support Services would work with domestic violence victims, though details are still in the works.

Creating shelter ‘flow’

Among the proposals’ goals is to reduce the number of chronically homeless people in Charlotte’s shelters. Liz Clasen-Kelly, CEO of the newly merged men’s shelter and Urban Ministry Center, told commissioners more than one in five men at the shelter stayed six months or longer. More than 900 were turned away last year.

“We’re focusing on people who get ‘stuck’ in the shelter,” she said, adding the proposals would increase “flow” out of the shelter to decrease lengths of stay and people turned away.

The county has taken a more active role in affordable housing efforts with $22 million allocated in the last budget, including the $11 million for rent subsidies. County Manager Dena Dioro told commissioners it was a priority to use funds where the greatest needs are.

Commissioners asked for more information about the proposal’s job training and other programming to ensure participants will succeed after subsidies end.

Commissioner Susan Harden said the proposals mirrored the board’s earlier conversations about priorities around affordable housing and the county’s most vulnerable residents.

“I’m seeing populations in here we talked about: the moms that need a little extra (help), the veterans, the seniors, domestic violence (victims),” she said. “I’m very moved by the thoughtful nature that is being presented to us.”

Several commissioners noted that any proposal was just one tool of a larger problem. Reports in recent years have estimated Charlotte needs between 24,000 and 34,000 affordable housing units.

“What (the proposals) highlight is the magnitude of the problem that we’re facing, even with the steps that we’re trying to incorporate,” Commissioner Mark Jerrell said.

This work was made possible in part by grant funding from Report for America/GroundTruth Project and the Foundation For The Carolinas.

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