OP-ED: Why I voted no on Charlotte’s affordable housing bonds

OP-ED: Why I voted no on Charlotte’s affordable housing bonds
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Charlotte definitely has an affordable housing problem.

Thousands of people here live on annual wages well beneath the poverty line, and rent prices have skyrocketed over the past decade. Older apartments have been torn down in favor of new luxury ones.

I believe the city of Charlotte should play a role in solving this problem and helping low-income people live within city limits. But I voted no this year on Charlotte’s proposed affordable housing bonds.

Here’s why: Charlotte’s City Council has spent more than $124 million on affordable housing so far — and failed to show they can actually make an impact.

Until the city can show that there’s a meaningful plan to address the problem, I won’t support giving them more money to throw blindly at it.

Here’s a brief explanation of the affordable housing bonds.

If you live in the city of Charlotte, your ballot will ask you to vote yes or no on authorizing the city to borrow $50 million to build or incentivize housing for low- and moderate-income people. Taxpayers pledge to pay whatever taxes necessary to pay the money back.

This money is for “affordable housing,” a subjective term with an actual specific definition. It roughly equates to rent that somebody living at 80 percent or below of the area median income could afford without spending more than one-third of their income on it.

[Agenda story: What does affordable housing mean in Charlotte?]

In practice, this comes out to around $1,300 per month in rent on the high end. The city has estimated that there’s a need for at least 34,000 affordable housing units in Charlotte today.

In 2014 and 2016, Charlotte has approved housing bonds of $15 million each year. But this year, Mayor Vi Lyles spearheaded the proposal to more than triple the amount of money put toward the city’s program.

Mayor Vi Lyles

Charlotte hasn’t spent that money wisely.

Generally, the city uses this affordable housing bond money to help subsidize new apartment projects. Developers promise to set aside a certain number of apartments to charge rent affordable to people with incomes below the area’s median.

But here’s the thing: Very few of these apartments are serving the people who really need them.

A lot of these “affordable” units are pegged to 80 percent of the area median income. Yes, this is affordable housing, but Charlotte already has a glut of apartments affordable to this income bracket.

Photo via former Mayor Jennifer Roberts via Twitter.

Remember that $1,300 figure? That’s where these are. Developers are getting public money for promising to keep rent around what’s already the average rent price in Charlotte. They’re getting public money and doing nothing differently.

Only a small percentage of these apartments are affordable to people with extremely low incomes, where the greatest need is — and where economic forces can’t function effectively.

Charlotte leaders have promised that they’ll focus more on people in lower income brackets in the future, but have done nothing to require that.

[Agenda story: Why even Charlotte millionaires should care about affordable housing]

It’s a wildly inefficient way to fund affordable housing, and the money isn’t reaching the people who actually need it.

At the rate Charlotte is going, it would take more than 1,000 years to meet today’s demand — and dozens of more people are moving to the city every day.

I really want Charlotte to attack the affordable housing problem. But until the city can show that it can actually spend money in ways that make a difference, I’m voting no on the bonds.

If Charlotte has failed to spend $15 million bond packages wisely, why give them $50 million?

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