The city of Charlotte appears ready to raise the cost of trash collection at apartment complexes in order to pay for 50 new police officers and other budget items.
After all, city officials say, apartments are commercial, profit-making properties. And the state legislature helped create the city’s nearly $22 million budget gap by repealing the business privilege license tax – essentially, a tax cut for businesses.
Not surprisingly, apartment complex owners aren’t thrilled with this logic. Why raise trash pickup costs on their properties – but not on homeowners – when apartments represent the primary housing for the poor and working poor? They say when their costs rise, they’ll simply pass them on to their renters, whose median household income sits at $38,626 – roughly half of what the typical Charlotte owner household brings in.
More than 60 percent of African Americans and Latinos are renters in Charlotte. Why raise the cost of living on the working poor at a time when studies show they have a tougher time rising here than in virtually any other major city in America?
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That’s a compelling argument. But ultimately, it falls short.
Apartment complexes do fill a critical niche in providing low-income housing. And it certainly costs the city far less to pick up trash at apartment complexes than at single-family homes.
But unless they’re the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership or some other nonprofit developer, apartment complex owners aren’t primarily housing poor families out of a sense of civic duty. (And with average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment at $1,200, units aren’t primarily housing the poor).
Owners are in it to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They can and do raise rents on those tenants as they – and the market – see fit, without any provocation from the city.
We’re not convinced the city’s budget-writers have looked hard enough for other ways to pay for the new officers. But given the less-savory options they’ve offered so far – raising taxes or eliminating apartment trash pickup – the proposal to raise apartment pickup fees looks like a worthy option. The hike – from $25 to $56 a year per unit – would end the city’s subsidization of pickup at these commercial properties, garnering most of the money needed for the officers. That would mean a rent hike of $2.58 per month, if landlords passed the increase on to tenants.
With luxury apartments sprouting all over Charlotte, city officials have a point when they call subsidizing multifamily trash pickup an inefficient way of helping low-income renters.
Still, with income inequality and poor social mobility hobbling the prospects of the working poor, City Council cannot in good conscience nudge rents higher without scouring their budget to find ways to target help toward low-income renters.
Police officers are important. Keeping the working poor from getting priced out of Charlotte’s rental market should be, too.