Viewpoint

How investors are driving Charlotteans out of their homes

Affordable housing advocates cannot build it fast enough to keep up with demand and rising rents.
Affordable housing advocates cannot build it fast enough to keep up with demand and rising rents. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Right before the Christmas holiday, The Housing Partnership received an emergency request for housing. A disabled senior was being displaced from her apartment near Central Avenue after the property was purchased by an investor for redevelopment. She needed housing near transit that was affordable for her low, fixed income. Such a request is nearly impossible to accommodate in Charlotte’s current affordable housing climate, because the wait times for subsidized units for low-income seniors are measured in years rather than months.

More and more often we are seeing cases like this where older apartments are being purchased and redeveloped, resulting in sharp rent increases and displacement of lower-income tenants. We see the families and individuals being displaced and do everything in our power to help them. But when an apartment community is sold to an investor and rents are raised from $650 to $850 in the first year alone, there are painful ripple effects. Families who don’t earn enough to afford their new rent scramble to find housing, which is often substandard and farther away from jobs, services and good schools.

These apartment communities, which have no federal or local subsidies restricting rent increases, are called Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH). And in Charlotte, they are changing hands at alarming rates to out-of-town investors whose only aim is to gain an immediate rent increase, hold the properties for a few years and then resell them at a profit.

The Housing Partnership, along with other local affordable housing developers, has increased its production of new subsidized affordable housing. But if Charlotte continues losing more NOAH units, our affordable housing crisis will deepen.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles recently brought this topic to the City Council during its retreat. She emphasized that the city must find a way to help acquire these properties, especially those with modest rents which are near good schools and services. This would help safeguard the countless individuals and families who are at grave risk of being displaced if their apartments are sold or redeveloped. We applaud the mayor’s idea and feel strongly that it should be enacted as soon as possible. However, the city cannot do it alone.

Julie Porter
Julie Porter

The NOAH properties are being sold as “value add” – meaning there’s potential for immediate rent increases – so they are often sold at higher prices assuming greater future profits. To compete and preserve Charlotte’s affordable housing stock, The Housing Partnership will need additional resources to win the bid for these apartment communities. This requires an innovative model that includes access to low-interest capital as well as broader support from the community.

The Housing Partnership is issuing an imperative call to action, urging individuals, investors, congregations and other community partners who want to support an affordable housing preservation fund to contact us. With each day, Charlotte is losing ground in the effort to provide enough affordable housing for those in need. The mayor has stepped forward with the vision, but it’s up to this community to see it through.

Porter is president of Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership. Reach her at jporter@cmhp.org

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