Charlotte’s struggles with affordable housing march on. This prosperous city insists it wants to provide enough affordable housing for its lower-income residents and has taken steps to do so. But they are mostly baby steps, and we keep stubbing our toe.
Look, for example, at what has happened with the Strawn Cottages. For decades, about 30 modest cottages dotted a 16-acre site in Dilworth between South Boulevard and Euclid Avenue. They weren’t fancy, but they were adequate homes and the Charlotte Housing Authority charged very low rent.
Now the site is an empty field, the cottages demolished, the residents forced out. Charlotte’s stock of affordable housing has taken another small hit, and grand promises are on hold.
In October 2016, the housing authority announced it had selected a master developer to build a $330 million complex on the Strawn Cottages site. It would include 725 apartments, a 180-room hotel, shops, restaurants and 330,000 square feet of office space. The plan would reserve 145 of the apartments for people earning between 65 percent and 80 percent of the area median income.
Since then, the cottages have been destroyed, but the first shovel hasn’t cracked the ground for the new development. That groundbreaking was supposed to occur last year, but the Observer’s Ely Portillo reports that the developer hasn’t purchased the site yet and the beginning of construction could be years away.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services now says it will begin a stormwater infrastructure upgrade this fall. The developer, the Fallon Company, says it has been told that will be done in 2019, but it has given no timetable for starting or finishing the new apartments, Portillo reported.
So as the city struggles to enlarge its stock of affordable housing, dozens of low-income residents were displaced to make room for a mega-development that still hasn’t begun two years after a developer was chosen and is likely not to be finished for at least a few more years. The city won’t get very far very fast with this one-step-back, two-steps-forward-eventually approach.
Even when the project is finished, it should be noted, 80 percent of the apartments will be rented at market value, and 20 percent will be reserved for people making 65 to 80 percent of area median income. That fails to do anything about Charlotte’s most dire shortage: housing for those making 30 to 50 percent of median income.
It’s true that the Strawn Cottages had become incongruous in a South Boulevard corridor bursting with millennials and chic development. And the Housing Authority is right to want a lot more affordable housing on that site than one unit per half acre.
It’s a shame, though, that the cottage residents were forced out and affordable housing units torn down years before anything will replace them. The authority and the city must avoid episodes like this going forward.