In the zip code where the city has funded the most affordable housing units in recent years, essential services like doctors’ offices and banks are few and far between.
- Instead, in and around the 28213 zip code, which includes the areas around North Tryon Street, you’ll find fast food restaurants, a plasma donation center and school buses dropping off children whose families live in the motels that line Sugar Creek Road.
- It’s an area that struggles with gun violence, and where residents feel far from opportunity.
Meanwhile, across the city in 28207, the city’s wealthiest zip code surrounding Providence Road has multiple pharmacies, banks, doctors’ offices and a Harris Teeter.
- But no affordable housing has been built there.
The reason for the disparity is more complicated than simple desires to build or not build in certain places.
What’s happening: An Axios analysis of the investments made through the Housing Trust Fund, which uses bond money to subsidize affordable housing development, reveals that two-thirds of the projects funded in the last few years have been built in zip codes where the median income is below that of the city of Charlotte of $62,817.
Meanwhile, just a handful of developments have been funded in the wealthier, whiter southeastern “wedge” of the city.
Why it matters: Wealthier neighborhoods with more resources lead to more opportunities. Surroundings dictate outcomes. And for decades, Charlotte concentrated housing for the poor in a handful of places.
- What’s more, neighborhood leaders worry the city is creating a glut of affordable housing in certain low-income areas, without thinking more holistically about developing the community around it.
Data: City of Charlotte; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios
What we found: In north Charlotte’s 28213, the fund has financed eight affordable housing projects since the start of the 2018 fiscal year. The zip code’s median income is $45,808.
- The second and third highest concentrations of affordable housing investments are 28217 (South Tryon Street area near Revolution Park) and 28208 (west Charlotte, around Wilkinson Boulevard), respectively.
- 28208 has the second-lowest median income of any zip code in the city, at a little over $36,000.
The big picture: Past policies like redlining and steering led to the patterns of segregation and poverty today. Some housing advocates say government leaders are making decisions now that, once again, we’ll regret later.
- “We’re trying to hurry up and address the symptoms, and we want to hurry up and make people happy, and I understand it because they’re under fire,” says Greg Jackson, founder of Heal Charlotte. “But you’re not putting us in a position to win.”
Context: The city prioritizes putting affordable housing in what’s known as areas of “high-opportunity,” and would like to redevelop land it already owns in those places, says spokeswoman Leslie Blaser.
- It also scores proposed developments based on their proximity to transit, employment centers and other services.
- “We do want to find ways to ensure that affordable housing isn’t concentrated only in high-poverty areas,” says Shawn Heath, special assistant to the city manager and interim director of Housing and Neighborhood Services.
From a developer’s perspective, building in high-opportunity areas comes with logistical hurdles.
Lee Cochran of Laurel Street Residential tells me that to buy land in south Charlotte, he would have to put it under contract within 60 days. But to obtain financing for affordable housing, they’d have to be under contract for a year.
- The firm is working with Crescent Communities to build mixed-income housing in Ballantyne, but he said that only happened because the landowner approached them.
- “But if it’s just going out and buying land on the open market, it’s exceedingly difficult to execute.”
Of note: Most affordable housing developers use a federal tax credit administered by states known as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, which incentivizes development in high-poverty areas.
But even with all of the public assistance, the cost of construction and land is surging, especially in expensive parts of town. That means developers have to rely increasingly on donated land from churches or other organizations.
On Charlotte’s west side, in 28208, the city has funded the construction of more than 600 affordable housing units in under five years.
For Rickey Hall, who has lived in west Charlotte for most of his 65 years, it’s a repetition of a history that he wants to avoid.
Starting in the late 1960s, in barely three years, the 2.5-mile stretch at the heart of the West Boulevard corridor transitioned from largely single-family homes, to containing five large low-income apartment complexes, according to local historian Tom Hanchett.
- White flight coincided with the construction of those apartments, Hall said, and with it, businesses, including the grocery store, left too.
Hall was one of the members of the Housing Trust Fund’s board when it was first established in 2001. He says he’s not a critic of the trust fund, but believes its outcomes have led to another saturation of affordable housing that continues to affect the inequities in the neighborhood.
- “You wonder why you don’t have a grocery store, you wonder why you don’t have pharmacies, you don’t have other amenities like other sections (of town),” says Hall, board chairman of the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition. “Just look at the vast difference between East Boulevard and West Boulevard.”
One other side to this argument about sides: Some advocates say we should keep building more affordable homes in lower-income neighborhoods, but we should make sure residents from the neighborhood get them.
Robert Dawkins, political director with Action NC, would prefer Housing Trust Fund dollars be utilized to prevent displacement than to move people to places like Ballantyne, where, he says, things are set up for the wealthy.
Especially when developers can build more units for the same amount of money elsewhere.
- “I’d rather build as many units in neighborhoods where people already live than have a feel good story about Black and brown people living in Ballantyne,” he tells me.