Local

How do we solve Charlotte’s affordable housing shortage?

Amid a luxury apartment construction boom, Charlotte’s shortage of affordable housing is bigger than ever. The deficit has grown from 17,000 units in 2007 to 34,000 today.
Amid a luxury apartment construction boom, Charlotte’s shortage of affordable housing is bigger than ever. The deficit has grown from 17,000 units in 2007 to 34,000 today. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

With Charlotte’s affordable housing shortage at an all-time high, more than 300 people gathered at Central Piedmont Community College Tuesday night to hear housing experts describe the immense social costs of the problem and discuss ways to solve it.

“Building Futures,” a symposium on affordable housing, was hosted by Habitat for Humanity Charlotte and the Foundation for the Carolinas. It comes amid reports that Charlotte needs about 34,000 additional affordable housing units. That’s about twice the deficit of a few years ago.

With wages flat, a growing number of working Americans are struggling to pay for housing. Charlotte’s average rent is now $1,000 a month – nearly half the annual salary of a worker earning $12 an hour. But minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour, and 30 percent of women in the Charlotte region work for minimum wage, N.C. Housing Coalition Director Satana Deberry said.

Charlotte’s booming population growth is making the problem worse. As more people seek urban living, gentrification is pushing up rents in what until recently were lower-income neighborhoods near the center city. That means lower-income people are being forced to move farther from town. “If we don’t start thinking about creating mixed-income, diverse communities,” said former Atlanta Housing Authority Director Renee Glover, “all we’re going to do is suburbanize poverty.”

Children with unstable housing situations are more likely to have developmental delays, educational deficits and other problems, said Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, research and policy director for Children’s HealthWatch in Boston. But “a stable, decent affordable home” she said, works like a vaccine, helping to inoculate children and benefiting society as well.

Panel members agreed that affordable housing should be mixed with market-rate housing. But finding a way to build all those affordable homes was a tougher question. Most N.C. cities, including Charlotte, don’t require developers to include affordable units in new developments. They say they can’t because there’s no state law that specifically allows cities to do it.

Deberry urged audience members to lobby legislators to create such a law. “It’s the only way you’re going to get it,” she said.

Tuesday’s symposium comes on the heels of the publication of Matthew Desmond’s provocative new book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.”

Desmond, a Harvard University sociologist, describes the shortage of affordable housing as an often-overlooked but major cause of poverty.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women,” he has written. “Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

Satana encouraged audience members to read the book. Order it from Amazon, she said. “You can have it in two days.”

Pam Kelley: 704 358-5271

  Comments