9 Investigates

9 investigates: Lessons Charlotte can learn from Nashville on affordable housing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nashville and Charlotte look like sister cities. Construction cranes tower over new skyscrapers sprouting from the ground.  Luxurious new apartments are sprinkled throughout vibrant neighborhoods exploding with growth.

However, when you look closer at two of the biggest boom towns in the South, the difference in how they handle affordable housing comes into sharp focus.

Channel 9 spent two days in Music City and discovered the Queen City can learn a few big lessons when it comes to getting people into houses they can afford.

PART 1: Nashville's success | Housing the homeless and keeping families from being displaced by gentrification 

In south Nashville, Channel 9 met a grandmother named Alice Summers. With her four-year-old granddaughter in hand, she showed us the apartment where they have lived for three years.

"I'm just proud of this place. I used to be homeless, sleeping in cars and churches washing in sinks at gas stations," Summers described.

She was hooked on drugs and lived on the street for nearly five years until she met developer Kirby Davis.

The high-profile Nashville developer gave her a second chance by giving her a home in one of his apartment complexes.

"I didn't really like the idea of people in my town sleeping on the streets," Davis said.

His company has more than 15,000 apartments and they rent 1 percent of them to the homeless at deep discounts.

Davis and a network of other developers now house more than 3,000 people.

That's five times more than the number of homeless people housed in Charlotte.

Davis thinks his ideas could help here.

Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Barber asked Davis, "You take a loss of more than $300,000 to house people at discounts. What makes you think developers in Charlotte are willing to let go of money too?"

Davis said, "I hope some of them will feel gratitude for the wealth they've been able to build in this industry and be willing to give back to their city a little bit of it."

Nashville's approach goes well beyond developers and the business community.

More than 10 years ago, the city and the state made a major change regarding property taxes.

When neighborhoods start to become gentrified in Charlotte, property taxes often rise so fast many residents get priced right out of their own homes.

In Nashville city leaders found a way to stop that from happening. For veterans and anyone over 65 who qualifies, the city freezes property taxes so homes don't become unaffordable.

Pamela Wideman oversees Charlotte's affordable housing efforts and told Channel 9 North Carolina lawmakers won't let Charlotte change tax laws for anyone.

"We have to operate though within our legislative bounds," Wiedeman said.

Still, she says Charlotte could learn some things from Nashville's successes.

Wideman said, "I believe every person deserves a safe, decent place to call home."

Reporter Mark Barber asked Wideman, "Do they have that here?"

After a brief pause, she responded by saying, "We are working really, really hard with our private sector and our public sector to ensure that."

Wideman says Charlotte is trying to focus on what it can control, including finding more landlords to open affordable apartments.

"I am hopeful we will start to see more landlords stepping up to help with this," she said.

She tells Channel 9 the city is trying to build more partnerships but many local landlords are worried about the money they'll miss.

In response to those fears, Kirby Davis said, "All you in Charlotte have to ask yourself, do we want our children sleeping on the streets while we go work in this fabulous city and industry?"

Davis says every affordable unit set aside in his 100 properties is now occupied.

He'd like to carve out even more for people like Alice Summers and her granddaughter.

"There are some people out there now who really, really need it." Summers continued saying, "There's a lot of people out there dying every day."

Davis says it's truly a matter of life and death.

Some of the homeless people he housed died after he gave them a home because their health was already worn down.

Davis says many landlords who are considering opening up their own units also question whether housing the homeless will take away from an apartments cool factor.

His answer for critics?

"The transformation is amazing when you can bathe and shower every day when you can wash your clothes. It's hard to tell them from the general population."

Davis says caseworkers do check in with his homeless residents every month to make sure they're being good neighbors. If they're not, they're evicted.

He says more than 90 percent of the people he houses don't run into any issues.

Davis also says he doesn't really get any push back from residents who don't like living next to a formerly homeless person who is getting a discounted rate.

He says often neighbors will band around the vulnerable person and support them as much as they can.

So, what can Charlotte do about other people like teachers, who aren't homeless, but still can't afford to live in the communities they serve?

Nashville has also found innovative ways to help them.

PART 2: Nashville's success | Workforce housing and business partnerships

The rush of traffic on Nashville's interstates and the crowds of tourists in downtown usually skip past the city's residential neighborhoods but that's where the most growth is happening.

"There's a serious problem if you want to live near the core and be able to get to work," said developer Kirby Davis.

Davis says homes values in some neighborhoods have skyrocketed 150 percent.

Just like Charlotte, the city has waves of modern, million-dollar mansions springing up beside modest homes.

The difference is many lower-income and longtime residents in Nashville can afford to stay there.

The Green Hills neighborhood in south Nashville is the wealthiest area in the state of Tennessee.

It's also where Channel 9 discovered one of the biggest differences in affordable housing compared to Charlotte.

An imposing apartment tower across from an upscale mall has 136 units and they're only for retired teachers and low-income senior citizens.

You won't find anything like it anywhere in Charlotte, especially in neighborhoods equivalent to South Park.

Nashville's school system also has a website to help current teachers find affordable housing.

In Charlotte, teachers are on their own.

A recent Trulia study showed teachers can only afford 20% of the houses on the market in Mecklenburg County.

Davis says Charlotte could help teachers and so many others if it starts thinking bigger.

"The city as a whole has to come together and decide this is something we want to eliminate," said Davis.

Nashville is well on its way.

The tower for retired teachers is funded by the community.

Building improvements came from a bank that granted a special low-interest rate on a loan.

Davis thinks Charlotte could also build similar towers if our biggest banks -- Bank of America and Wells Fargo --- offered developers special interest rates as well.

City councilman Braxton Winston, "We're working very hard on leveraging some of those names that you just mentioned."

Winston told reporter Mark Barber the city is talking with banks about financing more developments.

He'd like to see more projects take shape like the Brightwalk community in northwest Charlotte. It's a mixed-income community funded by a mix of public and private dollars.

City leaders say the big banks don't have any concrete plans yet, but conversations are happening.

Winston said, "I think even if you think something is a pipe dream you have to put it on the table because we have to be creative."

Creative thinking is what has set Nashville apart from peer cities like Charlotte that are grappling with similar growth spurts.

Alice Summers says she and her granddaughter are proof that success that can come when cities make affordable housing a priority.

"Everybody deserves a chance," she said.

Charlotte currently has $15 million in its housing trust fund for affordable housing projects.

Voters will decide if they want to increase that to $50 million this fall.

City leaders say that would help but the city's affordable housing crisis is a billion-dollar problem and the city is short 24,000 units, so they need as much help from the private sector as they can get.

Charlotte resources for affordable housing:

Wideman says part of the problem in Charlotte is many people aren't aware what services and help is available to them. For a complete list of the assistance that is available, visit: http://charlottenc.gov/hns/housing/pages/default.aspx

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