This story was originally published February 21, 2017 and updated in January 2018. Updates include newly calculated income limits.
Rent continues to rise rapidly, and low- and middle-income people are quickly being priced out of Charlotte’s neighborhoods as they develop and redevelop.
That’s one reason why Charlotte’s City Council pledged last year to accelerate the creation of 5,000 more affordable housing units over the coming three years.
But what does “affordable” even mean? Here’s a quick breakdown of the political buzzword of the moment.
Who needs affordable housing?
First, some definitions. The key salary figure that everything hinges on is the “area median income,” which in Mecklenburg County is $70,700 for a family of four, according to 2017 numbers from U.S. Housing and Urban Development. All figures are before tax.
Next, there are generally two types of things we talk about when we talk about affordable housing.
First, is “workforce” housing, intended for people like teachers, police officers, and blue-collar workers making 80 percent of the area median income or less. That’s the bottom column of the chart below.
Then there is “low-income” housing, or what typically is eligible for publicly subsidized housing. That is 50 percent of the area median income, and the top column of the chart.
The middle column represents 30 percent of the area median income.
How much rent do people pay?
In nearly all cases, “affordable” means that a family spends no more than 30 percent of their income on their rent and utilities.
These programs use a figure known as “adjusted gross income” to figure out that number. That’s the pre-tax amount with certain expenses backed out, including childcare or elder care. So for a person with no dependents making $30,000 a year before taxes, they’d be able to afford $750/month in rent.
In public housing, most residents are in some type of “income-based housing” program where the amount they pay is benchmarked to how much money they make. Yes, the 30 percent figure.
A family making 50 percent of the median income – or $33,600 before taxes — would pay no more than $840/month in rent.
In other affordable housing options, the rent is pegged to a certain percentage of Charlotte’s median income. Generally, the goal is to make the apartments be in reach for people making 80 percent of the area median income.
So an affordable apartment for a family of four making that amount — $53,750 before taxes— would have to cost no more than $1,344/month.
Most of the city’s “workforce housing” options cost far less. Seneca Woods, off of Park Road just south of Woodlawn, costs $650 for a two-bedroom and $750 for a three-bedroom.
Where is the city’s affordable housing?
Generally where you’d expect: areas that are already lower-income.
Here’s a map. Some of the housing communities are income-based housing only. But a lot of them have a combination of workforce housing and income-based housing.
Do we have enough of it?
About half of Charlotte renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend more than that 30 percent figure on their housing costs, according to a UNC Charlotte Urban Institute report.
Among the “extremely low income” households from the chart above, only about one-quarter are currently receiving a housing subsidy.
Where does the city want to build more?
This map shows current affordable housing locations. The city council has a policy — which they often break — not to put new affordable housing projects within a half mile of existing ones. That’s the area shown in red.
The green shows areas where there isn’t much affordable housing and there is a need — primarily affluent areas of town.
What type of affordable housing is the city looking at?
Charlotte is limited in the amount of income-based housing it can provide because most of the funding comes from the federal government. There is so much unmet demand but there is no easily feasible way to accomplish it.
So most of what the city is eyeing now is mixed-income housing. This is where a developer uses public subsidies to build apartments and then sets some aside as workforce housing.
Last year, for example, the City Council voted to sell some land to a developer committing to 120 affordable housing units.
[Agenda story: Finally, Charlotte is making a good deal on affordable housing]
The thing is, in mixed-income housing, sometimes the developers use different percentages of the median income to calculate their rates. In this case, the developer is looking at 120 percent of the median income, which would be more than $80,000 before taxes.
So not rich by any means, but also far wealthier than must of Charlotte’s working poor. The rent would be $2,000 by the standard calculation.
The city is also subsidizing construction of some affordable homes in Grier Heights, offering down payment assistance and other assistance to families making less than 80 percent of the median income.