Patience is a virtue in developing affordable housing

The Strawn affordable housing project in Dilworth has been delayed, but CHA CEO Fulton Meachem says it will be worth the wait.
The Strawn affordable housing project in Dilworth has been delayed, but CHA CEO Fulton Meachem says it will be worth the wait. Observer photo

In response to “Charlotte trips again on affordable housing” (Aug. 8 editorial):

The Charlotte Housing Authority’s mission is to develop, operate and provide quality housing in sustainable communities of choice for residents of diverse incomes. We strive to create vibrant, healthy communities of choice for residents who qualify for federal housing assistance while collaborating with others to reach those with special needs and regularly seek efficient, outcome-driven partnerships that further our mission in our evolving city.

As a major banking center with a growing population, Charlotte continues to be one of the nation’s hottest real estate markets and is poised for long-term sustained economic growth. But as we look toward Charlotte’s evolution, it is critical that we take a thoughtful, holistic approach that considers all the needs of all our citizens to ensure that growth is sustainable.

One project that embodies this integrated approach is the redevelopment of the Strawn Cottages site. The planned $330 million project offers us an opportunity to help transform an underutilized series of parcels into a modern, 21st century transit-oriented neighborhood featuring mixed residential options including affordable, workforce and market rate housing; a hotel; retail & restaurants; and green space that unifies and pays homage to the distinctive characters of the Dilworth community and the nearby historic South End.

CHA hired the Urban Land Institute to conduct a site study to determine the highest and best use of the under-utilized Strawn site. Based on the study findings, we engaged the surrounding Dilworth community and local government agencies to establish a rezoning and master planning approach that works for all stakeholders.

In 2016, CHA awarded The Fallon Company, a nationally recognized real estate owner and developer, with the site’s master developer designation. Our transit-oriented master plan signals a paradigm shift in how developers can and should approach development opportunities. The plan includes housing for Charlotte’s low income and workforce in a mixed-use environment, while ensuring that we are providing a pathway out of affordable housing to market-rate opportunities.

The neighborhood, when complete, will be knitted together with mixed-income housing including 725 new mixed-income apartments (145 of the 725 apartments will be affordable); 170 affordable housing units in the Strawn Tower which recently underwent a $20 million renovation; 20 units of for-sale townhomes; new businesses and a fresh influx of workers who will occupy 57,000 square feet of retail space and about 330,000 square feet of office space; a hotel featuring about 180 rooms and a central, urban green space.

Flexibility is necessary in any development process. While CHA was selecting The Fallon Company as a partner, the city was simultaneously executing the Myrtle-Morehead Phase II infrastructure improvements. While our development schedule has been extended, CHA fully supports the city’s efforts to implement the storm drainage improvements needed. We will all achieve significant savings in the expenditure of public funds and will minimize the impacts to future development in the area. This is a win-win and is exemplary of “smart growth” practices.

The vision we have for Charlotte is ambitious, complex and transformative. Projects like Strawn, which is an embodiment of our holistic approach, are central in realizing our goals. We firmly believe, however, that it is impossible to achieve success without a prudent and sustainable foundation. Patience is a virtue, but we understand it’s not popular when the demand for inclusion is rightfully so urgent.

Meachem is the CEO of the Charlotte Housing Authority. Email: