Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
By: Caroline McMillan
April 6, 2011
A housing policy recently-passed by the Charlotte City Council allows new subsidized housing to be located only in neighborhoods a new study classifies as "stable."
Many of those neighborhoods are in south Charlotte, southeast Charlotte and areas around UNC Charlotte.
The policy, passed at the March 28 City Council meeting, is based on the Neighborhood Quality of Life study. That study divides Charlotte and its future annexation areas into small "Neighborhood Statistical Areas," then, based on 20 variables (including crime rate, school dropout rate and the rate of homeownership), classifies each area as stable, transitioning or challenged.
Under the new policy, no Neighborhood Statistical Area can have more than 15 percent affordable housing, which is for low-income families making less than 60 percent of the area median income. For a family of four, that would be about $40,000 a year, according to federal statistics used by the city of Charlotte.
Also under the policy, no more than 5 percent of housing can be for very-low-income residents who earn less than 30 percent of the area median income. Federal statistics place that annual income level at about $18,000.
As the city works to disperse subsidized housing, officials say they would like to steer new low-income housing into stable neighborhoods. Some of the council members who voted for the new policy worried developers would put more low-income housing in poorer neighborhoods that already have subsidized housing.
The Charlotte City Council has debated the issue for months, and when it voted on the policy, Warren Cooksey of District 7 in south Charlotte was one of two council members who voted against it.
Cooksey said he opposed the policy because limiting construction to only stable neighborhoods put up too many barriers.
The new policy "lowers the number of people who will be helped," said Cooksey.
He said the new subsidized housing is high quality, not like the barracks-style housing most people are familiar with.
And because in recent years affordable housing often has been mixed with market-priced apartments, it's hard to tell what is and isn't subsidized, Cooksey said. He said he lives a couple miles from The Pines at Carolina Place in Pineville, a complex that offers affordable housing and market-rate housing, and that The Pines looks like any other high-quality complex.
"I didn't realize it was subsidized until someone told me," said Cooksey.
The new policy "creates a stigma and doesn't reflect the modern reality of subsidized, low-income housing," he said.
In talking with constituents, he said, many south Charlotte voters didn't vote for the subsidized-housing bond that passed last November because they don't feel the government should be involved with subsidized housing.
But the new policy doesn't guarantee that subsidized housing will pop up all over south Charlotte.
High land prices in the area have deterred developers.
Jamie Banks, a spokeswoman for the city's Neighborhood and Business Services office, said there's a great need for affordable housing but the city is short more than 17,000 affordable-housing units, and the current economy complicates the issue.
"We're not going to build our way out of it," said Banks. "To build an affordable housing development is extremely tough in these financial times. ... As the city, we're looking at all sorts of ways to do that."
Under the old housing policy, the percentage of affordable housing per neighborhood was capped at 10 percent. A developer could make conversions to low-income housing if he didn't convert more than half the units in the complex.
The new policy doesn't put a cap on how many apartments a developer can convert, but the converted units can't push the neighborhood over the 15 percent low-income and 5 percent very-low-income caps.
Also, the policy doesn't allow new subsidized housing projects in a stable area if it's within a half-mile of an existing subsidized project in a neighborhood that's not rated stable.
The city's Housing Services Manager Pamela Wiseman said the policy is better than what the city operated under before.
"It takes into account the existing subsidized housing that is on the ground and it attempts to disperse ... new (subsidized) housing across the city," said Wiseman.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who campaigned on building more affordable housing, wants the council to look at providing more incentives for developers to bring low-income housing to stable areas where there is little or no subsidized housing. Also, he wants the council to find ways to entice developers to include subsidized units in their market-priced projects.
Banks said the council's Housing and Neighborhood Development Committee, of which Cooksey is a member, will study how to entice developers in April.
Do you have news from your neighborhood for South Charlotte News? Email staff writer Caroline McMillan at firstname.lastname@example.org.