Eric Frazier

Making progress on housing crisis

Julie Porter spent a recent morning cruising through neighborhoods along Statesville Avenue, stopping every so often to show me the redevelopment work of her organization, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership.

About a decade ago, this little tour might not have been such a good idea. These streets snaked through the crime-plagued Double Oaks housing project.

How bleak was Double Oaks? By 2008, as the partnership tried to relocate tenants and demolish the barracks-style apartments, looters descended on vacant units, smashing windows, kicking in doors and stealing air conditioners. Vagrants and drug dealers took up residence.

It’s hard to reconcile that memory with what sits on the sprawling site today, just north of the Interstate 277 loop.

That would be Brightwalk, an entirely new neighborhood from homebuilder Standard Pacific, with Dilworth-esque bungalows whose prices reach into the $300,000s. Homes have been selling about as fast as Standard Pacific can build them.

At the spectrum’s other end, units aimed at blue-collar workers and seniors rent in the $400 to $500 monthly range.

Porter, the partnership’s president, calls Brightwalk the group’s crowning achievement.

And for an organization that just celebrated its 25th anniversary, that’s saying a lot. The partnership, which grew out of community leaders’ concerns in the late 1980s about the lack of affordable housing, now serves as the city’s development arm for affordable housing.

Even before Brightwalk, the group won plaudits for stabilizing Greenville, Genesis Park, Seversville and other struggling communities near uptown.

It helped finance the preservation and development of more than 2,200 affordable housing units, and has participated in projects involving investments of more than $350 million.

In the mid-’90s, Henry Cisneros, then-secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, called its programs “some of the best ideas we’ve seen over the last decade.”

The partnership has made neighborhood after neighborhood better. With Brightwalk, the group joined the city in a $25 million project that forged an entirely new urban redevelopment model.

“It shows that we can do this,” Porter said. “And not only can we do it once, but we can repeat it.”

The partnership controls more land along the Statesville Avenue corridor, and wants to plant what amounts to a fifth city ward there.

Pretty audacious for an organization with 34 employees, and a budget that runs between $3 and $5 million annually. The city gives it about $2 million a year, and the group uses it to leverage additional federal housing dollars and foundation grants.

The partnership’s 25-year portfolio of work hasn’t solved the affordable housing shortage.

But it’s an encouraging start.