CHARLOTTE — Charlotte has grown tremendously over the past few decades. But with that, like many growing cities, has come a rise in housing prices. In the Queen City, that means homes that were affordable 45 years ago are now unaffordable for the same people who bought them.
An old stereo in one west Charlotte home can’t quite drown out the sound of a neighborhood that’s buzzing with change.
“It been a nice neighborhood,” Burlin Allen told Channel 9′s Madison Carter.
In the early 2000s, Allen and his wife said things started changing quickly.
“I came to Charlotte in ‘59,” he said.
Allen told Carter he bought his home in 1978.
“Felt real good,” he said. “To be in your own home.”
Allen was working full-time at a bakery making $8 per hour when he and his wife, Lucille, bought their house.
Adjusted for inflation, Allen was making well above minimum wage at a blue-collar job. At the time, the minimum wage was $2.65 per hour, which means he was making the equivalent of $35.42 an hour today. The same goes for Lucille.
It’s one of the glaring differences between the generation that built Charlotte and the one that’s moving into it now.
“No, you can’t do that. You can’t do that today,” Allen said. “At the bakery, I worked a lot of overtime. That’s how I made my money.”
‘It’s not for sale’
A newly-released report shows it would take five people making minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Meanwhile, Allen purchased his home for the cost of one year’s rent today.
“[I paid] 18-five,” he said. “18,500.”
That’s what homes were going for in Charlotte 45 years ago, and not just in minority neighborhoods.
“We bought this house in 1967. We paid $19,350,” historian Dan Morrill said. “We paid less for this house than you pay for a car -- even a small car.”
Morrill is talking about his Myers Park home.
“Right now, this house is not worth that much. But this dirt? I could sell this for $800,000,” he said.
Morrill gets calls for that “dirt” often, but he said he won’t sell. The same goes for Allen.
“I’m proud of it, OK, and I wouldn’t take nothing for it,” Allen said.
To hear another generation tell it, the mindset about homeownership was different not too long ago.
“I said I want something when I retire,” Allen said. “I keep on affording to pay for it. If I get laid off, I still can pay for it.”
But times are different now. Inflation is high, the financial bar for homeownership is higher, and the number of people looking to prey on the circumstances is soaring.
“I get calls three or four times, sometimes two or three times a day. ‘I want to buy your house.’ Well, it’s not for sale,” Allen explained. “Then my wife gets on the phone and says, ‘If I sell it, can I come live with you?’ And they hang the phone up.”
What’s driving neighborhood turnover?
Erica Gibson is a director at “For the Struggle.”
“We’ve actually had a senior tell us that an investor showed up to her door with $100,000 in a briefcase, but obviously her house was worth way more than that,” Gibson told Carter.
It’s an organization created to help seniors in Mecklenburg County, particularly those fighting to stay in their own neighborhoods.
“We found that there is a large senior population on the west side, and a lot of them were afraid of displacement,” she said.
It’s not just a big check that’s pushing neighborhood turnover. Property taxes are rising at astronomical rates.
“I think the last four years is just unique,” said Mecklenburg County Assessor Ken Joyner. “Our entire country, as we entered the pandemic, lived through the pandemic, and came out of the pandemic, [it] changed our country. And it seemed to put a focus on homeownership.”
Joyner’s office is tracking the numbers as it gears up to send property revaluations a month from now.
“We saw increases in value that are unparalleled in my lifetime,” he said.
Every county in North Carolina is required to do revaluations every eight years. Mecklenburg County decided to do so every four years to help with the sticker shock amid the growing need for affordable housing.
‘You don’t have to lose your home because you can’t afford it’
Since the last revaluation in 2019, there’s been a 59% increase in residential values across Mecklenburg County. The median home sale is $434,000, while the median household income is $73,124.
A number of agencies are working on outreach about how to dispute your assessed property value even before anyone gets their letter. There’s also a push to educate people living on fixed incomes about how to apply for government grants that will offset higher property taxes.
‘You don’t have to lose your home because you can’t afford it,” Gibson said. “There are programs in place that will help them.”
Charlotte is growing. It’s always been a city of newcomers but now, more than ever, people are paying attention to what we risk losing in order to grow.
“Charlotte’s evolving fast, and has started, say, transformation -- but I don’t think it’s transformation,” Morrill said. “But it’s evolving fast from being essentially a southern city with roots very strongly in the South to becoming a national city.”
“I think that the growth is a good thing,” Gibson said. “Just don’t forget where we started and where we came from. And don’t push the people out that built the neighborhood up, from nothing.”
For the HOMES program, which Mecklenburg County sponsors, only 2,500 applications came in in 2022. Just over half of those applicants received grants. The HOMES program is just one of the half-dozen assistance programs available to county residents.
There’s a ton of information out there, and that’s why we’re renewing our efforts to talk about all things housing here at Channel 9.
>> Starting next week, look for Madison Carter’s reports at noon covering everything from affordable housing, to development, and even the discussion surrounding gentrification in the Queen City.
(WATCH BELOW: Charlotte approves $20M to cover cost overruns for affordable housing projects)
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