CHARLOTTE, NC — It's no secret that Charlotte is in an affordable housing crisis like many other growing cities across the country. Experts say housing is "affordable" if someone spends no more than one third of their income on shelter.
Right now, there are between 20,000 and 30,000 families in our area who are priced out. Some police officers, teachers, construction workers and others who work hard in our community cannot afford to live in the Queen City.
Robert and Natasha Tucker are in the fight of their lives. For two months, two weeks, and three days, they lived in their mid-sized SUV with their teenage son and toddler daughter. Both parents worked, but still could not afford a place to stay. Recently, thanks to some public assistance, they have been able to move into an apartment. It's still a struggle.
"When we get our checks, we have to take both of our checks combined and give it all to these people just so we have a place to stay!" Natasha explained. "If I'm making minimum wage, $1,000 is NOT affordable to ME!"
The Tuckers are not alone. According to a study by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, nearly 40,000 families in Mecklenburg County spend more than half of their income on rent. The research also found that those in minimum wage jobs must work 96 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
"City officials, I think you should spend one day in my shoes and just see how it feels," Natasha Tucker said.
Foundation for the Carolinas is a non-profit agency that is working to find solutions by coordinating the efforts of the city, county and private investors. Executive Vice President Brian Collier says they are working on bold ideas.
One idea is to create incentives for developers to incorporate affordable housing units into their projects. Collier says developers are open to the idea, but they need to see how it ultimately impacts their bottom line. So, the plan is to try to provide them with supplements.
"We're looking at the creation of an equity fund, where perhaps foundations and other individuals in the community could create a separate fund that could help add additional returns to some of the private developments," Collier said.
Other ideas include efforts to preserve the affordable housing that already exists, and to hold on to city/county owned land to build more. Taxpayers will also likely be asked to chip in to increase the Housing Trust Fund from 15 million dollars to 50 million dollars. Voters would have to approve.
Meantime, the struggle for the Tucker family continues. Their vehicle was repossessed, and without transportation Natasha lost her job. No matter what happens, they refuse to be split up into different homeless shelters.
"How many families have to make that difficult decision to separate their family? Do you ever bounce back from that?" Natasha Tucker asked.
"That's one thing, we always vowed if anything happens, we stick together," Robert Tucker explained.
One new resource that is immediately available as a sort of "triage" or "one-stop" source for people who are in a housing crisis is to call 2-1-1. People can call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for immediate help.
A Way Home
This $20 million endowment is a public-private initiative designed to address family homelessness in our community. Rather than investing the funds into brick and mortar, A Way Home provides much-needed housing subsidies and supportive services for approximately 180 homeless or at-risk families annually.
While the AWH endowment will be at full scale in 2019, FFTC has joined with several faith-based partners to provide start-up funds to serve a small number of families pending full funding of the endowment. The AWH initiative focuses on prevention of homelessness through its Targeted Prevention partnership with Crisis Assistance Ministry, as well as providing rental subsidies for homeless families. The concept of “targeted prevention” is specifically designed to help families at risk of eviction.
A few figures:
- 248 families served in targeted prevention between 2014 and Sept 2017
- 114 families received housing subsidies in that same time frame
- Approximately $1.3 million awarded in start-up funds to date
This is partially funded by the A Way Home endowment. It’s a community collaboration among rental property owners and professional property managers and homeless services agencies to provide housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness who have significant barriers to securing safe, permanent and affordable housing. HousingCLT connects social services agencies that need safe, affordable housing options for their homeless clients to private sector property owners and managers who have available housing units.
HousingCLT was among the first recommendations of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force (read more: https://www.fftc.org/impact-story/opportunity_task_force) to be implemented, and it is funded by the City of Charlotte, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, FFTC and the North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Data: MecklenburgHousingData.org
Local reports by UNCC on housing instability, including evictions: http://mecklenburghousingdata.org/housing-instability-report/
Article with 2016 data on housing instability: https://ui.uncc.edu/story/housing-instability
Out of Reach report on North Carolina: http://nlihc.org/oor/north-carolina Scroll down and under "Compare Jurisdictions" and you can select Mecklenburg County. It shows that you would have to work 96 hours at minimum wage to afford a 2-bedroom unit at fair market rent