White House officials tour Charlotte to see federal climate investments

CHARLOTTE — A senior advisor to President Joe Biden spent the day in Charlotte to see how federal dollars have been invested in climate projects that support equity within the city.

Tom Perez and Mayor Vi Lyles started the day at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District’s bus depot, where the district is debuting its first electric buses this fall. They ended the day at the Peppertree apartment complex off Central Ave.

The apartment complex is what’s known as NOAH, or naturally occurring affordable housing. It’s pre-existing, typically older housing stock that rents below market rate.

Ascent Housing acquired the property about 18 months ago, and Mark Ethridge said the company has been very deliberate in trying to make improvements without pricing current residents out.

“Often when [places like this] sell a market rate investor will come in and paint this and change that countertop and the rents will all of a sudden go up $400-500 a month,” he said. “Instead of lifting up the rents, we set long-term deeds restrictions that make sure that these units stay affordable for decades to come.”

Of the 292 units in the complex, 30 percent are priced affordable for households making 30 percent of the area median income, the rest are priced for 60 and 80 percent of AMI.

Ethridge took Lyles and Perez into one of the units under renovation where they installed energy-efficient lighting and appliances and replaced the HVAC system with a heat pump, thanks in part to $8 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Perez said the funding was meant to provide health and safety upgrades that help people avoid having to choose between a place they can afford and a place that they feel safe and stable.

“They don’t need a handout they need a helping hand,” he said. “They need a stable roof over their head, they need a good job, they need access to health care.”

Once those needs are met, Perez said safe reliable transportation is another major hurdle.

Ethridge said many of the residents at Peppertree Apartments don’t own a car, or maybe have one car for their entire household. While the complex is on a few city bus routes, he said residents often need something easy and available at any time.

“Getting to that last place, the doctor’s office, the grocery store, child care what have you, requires some form of transit,” he said.

In the next few months, Peppertree Apartments is getting a solution. Through a Department of Energy program, its one of five affordable housing communities across the city getting an EV carshare program. The program allows residents to book and rent out one of two on-site EVs at a low cost, allowing them to expand their transportation options.

According to the city, Duke Energy will be installing the charging units over the next month and the cars should be ready for use by the end of the summer.

(WATCH: Electric vehicles are taking off but unreliable charging could stand in the way)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.

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