CHARLOTTE — Dozens of people with signs packed Monday’s Charlotte City Council to tell leaders to do more to keep people in homes.
One of those people was a single mom who knows firsthand what it is like to lose a home.
Charlotte resident Jasmine Johnson shared her story with the Charlotte City Council on how COVID-19 impacted her life and prevented her from working.
“I had caught COVID while seven months pregnant and the result of that, I ended up in ICU. I was in a coma and I had to learn how to walk again. I pretty much had to learn my whole life again,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who already lost her house once, said she lived in Lake Arbor when the landlord shut it down. But after her frightening battle with COVID-19, she found herself needing housing again.
“Doctors called my mom and said, ‘Get the family together because your daughter might not make it.’ But here I am. I am here telling my story, and I feel like everyone in here, we all can agree that rent is increasing here in Charlotte, North Carolina and going up and up and up,” she said.
The Housing Justice Coalition, Action NC and affordable housing supporters called on the Charlotte City Council to do more.
The groups released a 31-point plan and are calling on the city to be pro-active, such as to create an office for tenant and renter assistance, increase funding for programs preventing displacement, and curtail corporations from buying homes.
“Do you stand with the people? Or do you stand with developers, with landlords?” Resident Ismaail Qaiyim said.
The Charlotte City Council did not respond to the speakers and city attorneys said in a memo that some of the requests by the group aren’t possible due to state law.
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But the Housing Justice Coalition made it clear the group will continue to push the city to do more on affordable housing.
“We are not going anywhere and we will not back down on the issue of housing justice,” Qaiyim said.
While the city council did not address these concerns Monday night, council members did find out they have an extra $6.5 million to spend on affordable housing. A vote may come next month on the projects that will get funding.
VIDEO: Shuttered west Charlotte motel gets renovated to help families with affordable housing
Housing Justice Coalition Call to Action:
1. City and County governing bodies shall fund and enact the Right to Counsel:
Representation for tenants in eviction proceedings;
2. City and County governing bodies shall facilitate education about eviction process through grassroots organizations and government (i.e. appeal);
3. City Council shall pass an ordinance for Housing voucher acceptance that eliminates source of income discrimination
4. Local governing bodies shall enact Right of first refusal for tenants when landlord decides to sell a property;
5. The City and the County alongside nonprofits and legal advocates shall work toward the establishment of Eviction expungement at the local level;
6. The City shall track and publish annual Housing metrics such as the number of summary ejectments filed in Mecklenburg County Small Claims Court;
7. Housing Justice Coalition CLT shall work toward creating metrics to measure the impact of local housing organizing groups, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations;
8. Landlords shall create incentives for tenants who attend housing trainings on tenants’ rights and obligations convened by organizations such as TORC, Eviction is Real, Inc, and other tenant advocacy groups;
9. The City shall promote and provide logistical, financial and material support for social housing, land banking, especially as alternatives to selling city-owned land to private developers.
10. The City shall create an office for Tenant/renter assistance and counseling;
Gentrification & Displacement
11. Housing Justice Coalition CLT shall create organizing toolkits to empower neighborhoods and community associations with tools to create community power and to hold leaders accountable;
12. The City shall pass Local legislation that increases the oversight & accountability of community members in local decision making impacting displacement;
13. The City and County shall increase funding for programs that are preventing displacement such as RAMP, Tax relief programs and other related programs;
14. The City shall facilitate the procurement of materials, land and resources for local organizations seeking to preserve land/housing and provide additional opportunities for upward economic mobility in rapidly gentrifying areas;
15. The City and County shall aggressively fund community land trusts and provide a right of first refusal to community land trusts when City or County owned land is up for sale;
16. City Code Enforcement shall not enforce demolition of home owner occupied homes in distressed neighborhoods wherein there are high levels of displacement;
17. The City shall increase Down payment assistance funds and speed up the process for these funds to reach prospective homebuyers;
18. The City and County shall take immediate action to curtail corporations from buying homes. This includes but it is not limited to strengthening provisions of the proposed UDO overlay districts, providing logistical support for the use of restrictive covenants in applicable neighborhoods, passing an ordinance to further protect neighborhoods etc;
19. The County shall reinstate and where applicable, make property tax relief plans more available to a wider range of citizens;
20. The County shall increase homestead tax exemptions based on what is exempted by the Homestead Act and the full tax bill in addition to lowering the age requirement for eligibility for homestead tax exemption;
Community Benefits & Development Policy
21. The City shall pass a Community Benefits Ordinance that mandates community benefits for projects that receive public incentives similar to the ordinance recently passed in Richmond, VA. (public land, tax incentives etc.);
22. The City shall adopt a robust community benefits package with reference to the Community Benefits Task Force;
23. The City shall expand community notifications and alerts to community groups such as Housing Justice Coalition CLT and the Charlotte Community Benefits Coalition for community meetings regarding developments that impact neighborhoods (such as rezonings, City Council votes on issues that impact neighborhoods);
24. The City shall generate and disseminate a map of pending developments with information about community meetings, project timelines etc;
25. The City shall create a Comprehensive impact assessment for development projects that receive at least $10 million in public funding;
26. The City and County shall establish a cap on campaign donations from developers and create standard accountability metrics on such donations;
27. The City and County shall enact an Excise tax on development projects as an incentive to generate public benefits for development projects that receive public funding;
28. The City shall require any development project that receives public funding to provide a minimum of 20% affordable housing as a contractual obligation for receiving public funds.
29. Local governing bodies shall take all available actions and utilize all available resources to make housing as a human right a reality for all citizens;
30. Housing Justice Coalition CLT will continue to work for housing as a human right through education, policy advocacy and community organizing informed by our mission and this platform;
31. Housing Justice Coalition CLT will continually reassess and amend this platform as necessary to address material conditions of houselessness and economic injustice in the Charlotte Mecklenburg area
Response from attorneys for the city of Charlotte:
1. NC law would not permit the city to implement a “right to counsel,” however the city does provide funding for collaborations with Legal Aid and provides education regarding the eviction process through both the Community Relations Committee (CRC) and Legal Aid.
2. The CRC provides this service. In addition, the city also participates in a courthouse eviction prevention effort through a collaboration with Legal Aid.
3. SOID policy is in process. As previously explained, the city would need to get authority from the General Assembly to adopt an ordinance expanding the policy citywide.
4. The city has no jurisdiction over private real estate transactions. Furthermore, all landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities are set forth in state law.
5. NC law controls the expungement process. In addition, Legal Aid and Legal Services can provide assistance in this area.
6. That information should be available to the public from the Courts (County). There might also be opportunities for collaboration with the Urban Institute.
7. No city action requested.
8. No city action requested, but the city financially supports community partners that conduct housing training.
9. The city cannot create land banks (or land trusts), but it can perform the basic functions of a land bank by buying and holding troubled properties, stabilizing properties by eliminating encumbrances and then conveying properties to a developer who will carry out a specific public purpose such as providing low-income housing. Some of the projects funded by HTF and other funding sources might be considered as already addressing this HJC request. In addition, the NEST Commission is reviewing this as part of its work plan.
10. The CRC already partners with community partners that do this.
11. No city action requested.
12. The overly broad nature of this request raises concerns. For example, it could be requesting community input on an individual eviction or create conflicts with the guiding principles and implementation of the UDO. We don’t totally understand what this demand is referencing, but assuming that this is a request regarding zoning and planning decisions, any actions by the developer would have to be voluntary. The city cannot mandate that a property owner mitigate displacement in by right or conventional development projects. However, the city is already considering ways to implement process changes that might allow negotiations between the City and a developer when a conditional zoning project might lead to displacement.
13. The city is re-evaluating its aging in place program and other anti-displacement initiatives are under consideration. The issue of tax relief has legal obstacles that we are trying to work around by carefully tailoring programs to address the needs of low-income residents.
14. Facilitate is a broad word. Procurement statutes are very specific about city procurement processes. NC real property statutes are also quite specific about when and how a city may buy or sell land. That being said, HTF and NOAH programs already do some of this. Additionally, there are federal funds (i.e. CDBG) the city uses to address economic mobility. Lastly, the city provides funding to several nonprofit organizations that make housing repairs for low-income residents.
15. See the answer to Request #9. Furthermore, there is a statutorily proscribed process for disposing of city owned real property that would prohibit the city from granting a right of first refusal to another party. The city has used the RFP process in the past to identify projects for city owned land that line up with stated city goals.
16. Very tricky: the minimum housing code is a health and safety ordinance. Not only would it be problematic for the city to ignore obvious health and safety violations that are brought to its attention, but the city also cannot selectively enforce against certain individuals and not others.
The city does work with owners whose property is under housing code enforcement to find resources for repairs/rehab and sometimes alternative housing.
17. The most recent adopted budget increased the funding available for down payment assistance. It would be difficult to speed up the process given the number of parties in these types of transactions (lenders, closing attorneys, etc.) and the fact that the city is not the party driving the process.
18. The city does not have the authority to prevent or interfere in private real estate transactions. In addition, there is NC case law that prohibits local government from placing conditions on conveyances of property that will depress fair market values. The city can provide educational support and is currently investigating opportunities for doing so.
19. See the response to Request #13.
20. No city action is requested, but be advised that neither the city nor the county have authority to change homestead exemptions or to create or expand tax classifications. That power lies solely with the General Assembly and would need to apply statewide.
21. The Community Benefits Task Force is discussing these issues. If you have questions you can contact Robyn Byers (Robyn.Byers@charlottenc.gov) in Planning who is facilitating the task force.
22. This would be a question for the Community Benefits Task Force.
23. Neighborhood leaders and residents can sign up to receive mailed notice of any rezoning requests (and related meetings) that are within 1 mile of the rezoning address. They may register through the website on the HNS page https://charlottenc.gov/HNS/CE/Communityinfo/Pages/Neighborhood-Organization-ContactList.aspx . In addition to the contact list registration linked above, information is spread through the NextDoor platform and city IT is building out the ability for residents to subscribe to notifications based on geography (i.e. registering for notice of rezonings submitted in certain neighborhoods).
24. See the response for Request #23. Nevertheless, the city may not know about all pending developments because not all developments require rezoning. The county receives and reviews building permit requests and may be in a better position to disseminate this type of information.
25. We are not sure what HJC means by “comprehensive impact assessment.” If it means fees for impacts, those have legal implications. If it means an analysis of costs and benefits, this may already happen since most ED generated development partnerships are based on an impact assessment that is used to justify supporting the public investment.
26. This request would not be within the city’s purview. State and federal election laws preempt this kind of action.
27. The city does not have the legal authority to regulate excise taxes.
28. Not all development projects that receive public funding include or would even support housing. For example, the city provides funding for public infrastructure that often supports a private commercial or industrial development that contains no housing. The city does have a density bonus incentive for voluntary inclusion of affordable housing by a developer. Furthermore, the city may (and often does) engage in negotiations for the voluntary inclusion of affordable housing.
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