Politics & Government

Charlotte City Council approves $17.7 million for affordable housing projects

Citizens arrived at the Charlotte City Council meeting on Monday, April 9, 2018 with signs referencing affordable housing.
Citizens arrived at the Charlotte City Council meeting on Monday, April 9, 2018 with signs referencing affordable housing. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte City Council on Monday approved spending nearly $17.7 million for eight affordable housing projects, after hearing from housing advocates who both praised the deals and criticized the city’s lack of community input when deciding on them.

Council members allocated $12.8 million from the Housing Trust Fund and approved transferring $4.9 million in city-owned land for six new construction projects and two renovations of existing multi-family complexes totaling 950 units.

Dimple Ajmera, an at-large council member, said better communication with community groups was necessary but not at the expense of delaying the vote.

“We really need to start moving the needle in the right direction and approve this as we strengthen the process when it comes to community engagement,” she said.

Charlotte officials have said the city needs 24,000 more housing units for low-income renters.

One-fifth of the 950 units are reserved for households earning 30% of the area median income, or about $26,300 for a family of four. Another 40% are for households making 60% AMI, or $47,400 for a four-person household; 37% are for households making at least 80% AMI, or $63,200 and greater.

The eight deals also include a combined $10.4 million from the private Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund and nearly $5 million in reduced interest.

After city staff presented the eight recommended projects to council earlier this month, several housing advocates said they were generally supportive of the deals but complained officials didn’t seek community input as promised in the city’s housing framework.

Officials with the city and LISC Charlotte said the framework’s language never intended for grassroots groups to vet the deals.

Several members of the public held signs in support of the projects, while others brought ones questioning the city’s efforts at community involvement.

There are pros and cons to the changes that happen when new, more wealthy residents move into a historically low-income neighborhood.

“This approach has left too many members of the community dissatisfied and has eroded a fragile trust,” said Rev. Ricky Woods of First Baptist Church West. “To the city staff’s credit, they see this problem and are committed to improving this process with any future recommendations of housing trust dollars.”

Meanwhile, representatives of Little Rock AME Zion Church, which is donating land for one of the eight developments, encouraged council to approve the deals.

“It is a crisis,” Brenda Anderson, a church member and small business owner, said of Charlotte’s housing needs.

“I want us to live up to the core value of integrity, to do the things we’re committed to do in this community, to make it a more diverse and inclusive environment,” she said.

Several council members acknowledged a need to improve community input, but asked those in the audience not to lose sight of progress.

“Any time you start doing something completely different than you’ve historically done it there are going to be bumps in the road,” council member Larken Eglenston said. “I appreciate everyone in this room and I think the voices we heard...speaks to the fact that even our housing advocates aren’t always going to agree on exactly what the best course forward is.”

This round of housing trust fund requests — the first to include the private fund and use LISC Charlotte to vet deals — uses about half as much public money per unit as previous projects.

With the $12.8 million approved Monday from the trust fund, more than $32 million of the $50 million has been allocated for several new construction and one rehabilitation project.

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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Lauren Lindstrom is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering affordable housing issues. She previously covered health for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, where she wrote about topics including the state’s opioid crisis and childhood lead poisoning. Lauren is a Wisconsin native, a Northwestern University graduate and a 2019 Report for America corps member.
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