Politics & Government

To bring more affordable housing, Charlotte could sell or donate publicly owned land

When it comes to affordable housing, the missing ingredient is often land.

To address that, the city of Charlotte is ramping up programs to buy land for affordable housing, sell city-owned parcels to developers who include affordable housing, and donating land to nonprofit groups. It’s part of the city’s new “framework” for building more affordable housing, which has become a major local issue over the past few years, as both rent and for-sale home prices have shot up by an average of more than a third.

Charlotte staff briefed the City Council on Monday on several pending transactions meant to encourage more affordable housing. The council is expected to vote on the proposals next month.

City-owned properties for sale include 1/3 of an acre on Matheson Avenue, where a developer would build three houses, with one reserved for a low-income family, along with 1/4 of an acre at Parkwood Avenue and The Plaza that could accommodate five townhouses, with one to be sold at a below-market price of about $200,000.

Some of the land would be sold to developers at a discount. The Parkwood property is valued at $209,300, but has a $140,000 purchase price, for example.

“What you’re getting in exchange is really the opportunity for someone...to gain economic opportunity,” said Pam Wideman, director of Housing & Neighborhood Services.

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The city is planning to donate 9 acres on Morris Field Drive near Charlotte’s airport to Habitat for Humanity. The land is appraised at $205,300, and the planned development would include 47 houses reserved for low-income families.

Wideman said there’s a new plan in place to develop 100 affordable housing units at Scaleybark Station, where a long-stalled project to build a mixed-use development with low-income units from before the recession never got off the ground. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership would develop the new housing units.

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The city is planning to buy 11 acres at the former Double Oaks Elementary School site near uptown, for just over $3.1 million. The land would then be used to develop more affordable housing.

Interest among developers is high, staff said.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand out there,” Wideman said.

Some city council members said they like the plan, but say the city needs to be even more proactive moving forward.

“We’ve got to start buying land along our transit lines,” said Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt.

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Studies have indicated that Charlotte lacks about 24,000 affordable housing units for people making less than 50 percent of the area’s median income (about $37,000 for a family of four). And amidst the city’s luxury apartment building boom, Charlotte has lost nearly half of its supply — 28,000 units — of older, naturally cheaper affordable housing to redevelopment since 2013.

The city is asking voters to approve $50 million worth of affordable housing bonds in November that would subsidize affordable housing development for the next two years. That’s more than a three-fold increase over the current $15 million worth of bonds. Private entities have started other initiatives to pitch in as well: Crescent Communities is donating $2 million worth of land for affordable housing at its River District development, while the Foundation for the Carolinas is trying to raise $50 million to match the city’s housing bonds, including $5 million pledged recently by Wells Fargo.

But with Charlotte’s population growing rapidly, investors buying and renovating or demolishing old apartments, and housing construction still lagging its pre-recession highs, market forces are likely to push the cost of housing higher for the foreseeable future.

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