Taylor Batten

What could you do with $900,000?

The candidates for Charlotte mayor have raised more than $1 million for their campaigns – and counting.

Where does all that money go?

Consultants of all kinds. Polling. Fundraising. Staffer salaries. Yard signs. Media strategists. Web hosting. Credit card fees. Direct mail pieces. Bookkeeping.

It kind of seems like a waste. More than $1 million for a part-time position with little real power in a race that last time drew a 7 percent primary turnout? That’s a pretty expensive ego trip.

Of course candidates are going to spend money to get elected. And donors who want an “in” with governmental leaders don’t hesitate to pony up.

But so much cash is spent on campaigns nowadays that we’ve become desensitized to it. Presidential candidates will fritter away $4 billion in the coming year and we hardly blink.

Charlotte’s mayoral candidates had raised $900,000 through June 30 (and about $175,000 more from that point through Aug. 4). It’s tempting to imagine what you could do with that kind of money to better this community. I did. Then I asked others to do the same.

Carol Hardison at Crisis Assistance Ministry is wrestling with “the summer effect.” Kids who get free lunch at school need food and a place to go, and some parents see their income dip because they do seasonal work for schools and others. Meanwhile, the heat drives up utility bills.

Add it all up and Crisis has seen a surge in requests for help. Preventing an eviction and utility disconnect costs about $400 per family. With $900,000, Hardison says, Crisis could prevent homelessness for about 2,250 families.

Laura Belcher, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity in Charlotte, could not only serve more people with that $900,000, she could pay it back in full at the same time. With $900,000, Habitat could build 12 houses for 12 low-income families. The homeowners would pay a total of about $80,000 a year in mortgage payments, enough to build another Habitat house every year. In less than 12 years, Belcher says, payments from the original 12 homeowners would have exceeded the original $900,000 investment, plus would have generated more than $160,000 in property tax.

And since children of homeowners are much more likely to graduate from high school and go to college, Belcher says, “one of those kids – after completing his or her education – could run for mayor of Charlotte.”

Stephen Smith, executive director of Charlotte Family Housing, could use $900,000 to pay the rental subsidy for all 200 families in his program for nine months.

Lori Giang, executive director of MedAssist, could provide an additional 12,000 patients with lifesaving prescriptions.

Urban Ministry Center could house and support 85 chronically homeless people for a year. Legal Services of Southern Piedmont could hire 12 attorneys to serve 1,000 low-income clients. The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte could provide more than 100,000 free tickets for students to take a field trip to a performance. Goodwill could help 1,200 low-income individuals with employment and career guidance.

But who can afford those kinds of things when there are slick ads to produce and strategists to consult?

OK, let’s make a deal. Forget the $900,000. Candidates and donors, how about dropping one ad and giving these groups just 10 percent?