After epic fail, what's next on affordable housing?

The city of Charlotte flunked on its efforts to ensure plenty of affordable housing along the Blue Line. Now what about the next mass transit corridors?
The city of Charlotte flunked on its efforts to ensure plenty of affordable housing along the Blue Line. Now what about the next mass transit corridors? The Charlotte Observer

Provocative headlines sell newspapers. “We Missed A Major Opportunity” seemed tepid for the recent Charlotte Observer story covering the City Council’s epic failure to create affordable housing along the LYNX light rail Blue Line.

Because the original light rail plan promoted a vision that those struggling economically could live near mass transit, I expected a more acerbic headline: “All Talk, No Action,” “City Council Cowardice” or maybe even “We Flunked That Test.”

Now is the time to ask uncomfortable questions and demand clear and courageous answers from our city’s leaders, before three additional light rail expansions. Otherwise, in just a few years, we will see cover stories that might read: “Déjà Vu” or “Fool Us Twice, Shame on Us.” What is the headline we will read with pride, or read with shame?

“Insanity,” a well-known adage notes, “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If not 2018, then when will we address the most critical issues possibly facing our city, one of diverging realities: many enjoy steadily rising wealth, while many more struggle daily to put a roof over their heads and find reliable transportation to work.

With each light rail track laid, land value doubles. If we are not proactive and ensure that housing with diverse price points is maintained and built, those fighting to survive will once again be pushed out of their homes, far away from employment.

There is no one solution. There are however, tools to fix our housing crisis, shared from Leading On Opportunity, real estate developers, affordable housing developers and City Council members:

Create land bank and equity funds to acquire and hold land that can be used to build affordable housing along the expanded corridors.

Create a Charlotte Area Transit System/City Housing collaboration that ensures that CATS acquires land suitable for housing along with the right of way for its tracks, as it already does for parking.

Provide city funding support and tax abatements to developers who acquire naturally occurring affordable housing, and commit to restrict a portion of the units at affordable rent levels for an extended term.

Give developers incentive to believe in the fabric of strong neighborhoods and communities by rewarding longtime tenants with rent stabilization.

Raise the existing Housing Trust Fund from $15 million to $50 million for the next bond referendum and revamp where the funds can be allocated.

We have seen this story too many times. Especially abhorrent was the 1960s-70s “urban renewal” that built Interstate 277 and destroyed the heart of the African-American community, the Brooklyn neighborhood in Second Ward — 1,480 structures razed; 1,000 families uprooted from their homes and businesses. Too often our community heralds gentrification at the expense of longstanding communities of color. Then we shudder when protesters feel compelled to shatter glass to wake us up.

Now is the moment for visionary leadership on the City Council. Now is the time for all Charlotteans to speak up for the new proposals. Now is the time for philanthropists to support land trusts to stabilize neighborhoods. Now is the time for landlords to say “yes” to diversity in tenants – not only in race and age, but also to longtime tenants and to those with temporary rental subsidies.

Now is the time to proactively support our city’s working poor rather than reacting to protesters. Now is the time to not only say we want a new Charlotte – with thriving neighborhoods that celebrate our diversity – but actually to do what it takes as a city to get there.

As we look to the next light rail line, here’s the headline we all should strive to create: “Charlotte Delivers Housing for All – A National Model.”

Rabbi Schindler is the Sklut Professor of Jewish Studies and the Director of the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte. Email: schindlerj@queens.edu