Wanted: New housing policy

From the Mixed Income Housing Coalition, a group advocating for equitable access to housing choices throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg:

Robert Samuelson's Aug. 6 article, “A tyranny of true believers,” on the increasing segregation in America does not address the cost of policies that limit where people can afford to live, nor does it account for the role zoning and public policy play in shaping housing patterns.

Regardless of income, people value family, good neighbors and security. Today's zoning practices separate people based on housing costs, to the detriment of the whole community.

Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett, in his book “Sorting out the New South City,” describes how people of different backgrounds lived together in Charlotte after the Civil War. Hanchett gives a vivid account of how that changed in the Jim Crow days. Public policies such as restrictive deeds, federal “red-lining” that discouraged banks from mortgage lending in black or integrated neighborhoods and unequally funded public services – including schools, hospitals and housing – helped shape today's housing choices.

Economic development experts say the lack of affordable housing throughout a community has real economic costs.

Workers with limited incomes – day care workers, nursing assistants, firefighters – have fewer choices in matching a job with affordable housing and transportation options. Businesses suffer from absenteeism, late arrivals and stressed employees. The transportation infrastructure is taxed. Air quality suffers.

Unevenly distributed community resources undermine neighborhood stability and economic development. Services shrink in one area as more affluent areas are overbuilt. In just one example of the link between housing options and health care, in less affluent areas convenience stores – with higher prices and less healthful food – substitute for grocery stores.

When families with limited incomes can live only in certain areas, it affects the entire community. The Brookings Institution reports that community involvement declines. Children in poor neighborhoods suffer: Schools with more concentrated poverty have difficulty attracting strong teachers and suffer from low achievement and less funding.

Affluent communities can become insular; seniors can't find housing they need there.

Brookings reports that Charlotte needs to connect housing policies to such core priorities as economic competitiveness, quality education, strong families and Smart Growth. Today's housing patterns damage all of these.

A community “win-win” can be achieved with strong inclusionary housing policies as well as economic incentives for developers to create socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods. Policies calling for and supporting mixed-income housing throughout will help reach that goal.