City must win the affordable housing battle

The Observer editorial board

As they approve zoning for apartment complexes, Charlotte City Council members are increasingly concerned about the lack of affordable units in these shiny new projects.

They are right to be worried. Our growing city has long struggled to keep enough affordable housing on hand, and with new apartments driving the average monthly rent north of $1,000, the problem is only getting worse.

Council member Claire Fallon worried at a recent meeting about the “apartmenting” of Charlotte, noting that provisions must be made “for regular people who can’t afford $1,600 a month rent.”

Indeed. To be a fully functioning and vibrant city, our housing market must be able to accommodate those who wait tables as well as those who own the restaurants.

State law doesn’t allow council members to mandate low-income units in new buildings, but council members are well within their rights to continue asking developers seeking rezonings whether or not their projects include affordable units, as LaWana Mayfield says she will continue doing.

The council has tried to entice real estate developers to include low-income units voluntarily, but its three-year-old program allowing developers to build extra units if they include affordable housing has attracted few, if any, takers.

There seems to be little room for the council to move on this issue. But given how important affordable housing is to our growing city, they must continue seeking new ways to fight the problem.

A brewing controversy

A brief recap of the path to the entrepreneurial American Dream: Start a business, sell your product or service, get bigger, sell more, find success.

No, it’s not that easy, but the free market welcomes your effort, if you’re hardworking and lucky enough. If you’re a beer brewer in North Carolina, however, the state has added one big obstacle.

As the Observer's Kathleen Purvis reported this week, Charlotte brewers John Marrino of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and Todd Ford of NoDa Brewing have joined brewers across the state to protest an N.C. rule that requires brewers to use a distributor once they reach 25,000 barrels of production a year.

A distributor acts as a middleman between brewers and the restaurants and retail outlets that sell beer. Distributors can be helpful to small brewers who want some leverage in, say, convincing a bar to devote taps to the brewer’s product. Distributors, of course, get paid for that service.

Problem is, brewers that cross over the 25,000-barrel cap don't have a choice about using a distributor. It’s an artificial and arbitrary tax, and it inhibits brewers who want to keep growing their businesses.

We asked Tim Kent, executive director of the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, if he could come up with another retail product in which business owners are forced to use a middleman. He couldn’t, and he also couldn’t provide a compelling reason why brewers should have to.

The distributors that Kent represents merely want to secure their piece of the action.

That’s understandable, but it shouldn’t be made mandatory. North Carolina’s brewing boom is good for our economy. The state shouldn’t penalize the brewers behind it.