Email sent to City Council by Mike O’Sullivan
I am writing on behalf of OneMECK, an organization that has been advocating for affordable housing in Charlotte Mecklenburg for many years.
This Monday night, you will undertake a critical vote on the Charlotte Future 2040 Plan. This plan is aspirational, and we are asking that you retain key provisions aimed at a more equitable future for our community, even though some of these provisions may be controversial.
One policy most at risk is one that is an essential tool for fighting segregation, rising housing costs, displacement, climate change, and barriers to opportunity. Policy 2.1 in the plan would improve neighborhood diversity and inclusion by ending exclusionary zoning. What does that mean? It’s currently illegal to build houses for two, three, or four families on over 75% of Charlotte’s residential land without an expensive and time-consuming re-zoning.
Some have argued the Policy 2.1 will not affect most affluent neighborhoods because they have HOA covenants that prohibit multi-family homes, while less affluent areas do not have the restrictions of such covenants. But, over the long run, the enforceability of these covenants can be challenged, for example if they have not been consistently enforced. In addition, there is still undeveloped land that is not subject to such covenants. Policy 2.1 is aimed toward the future and will have a gradual but growing impact in the years ahead.
Here are some key benefits of allowing houses for two and three families on lots currently zoned single-family:
- Reduces displacement: Maintaining the status quo of excluding anything but single-family homes in neighborhoods will perpetuate the process of displacement throughout the city. By setting a limit on how many houses can be built, our current zoning regulations artificially drive up prices by limiting the supply of housing.
Policy 2.1 will not result in duplexes and triplexes with affordable units in the most expensive neighborhoods in Charlotte. Land costs there are simply too high. In gentrifying neighborhoods however, lower cost duplex and triplex units would facilitate mixed-income housing on lots that are otherwise destined to end up redeveloped without any housing that is within the reach of existing residents.
- Addresses racial and economic segregation: Building houses for two or three families improves access to opportunities for housing and neighborhood social cohesion. Middle density homes tend to be less expensive to own or rent, have lower rent inflation, and have more diverse tenants.
- Increases overall housing supply: Charlotte’s population is growing dramatically and we need more housing of all sizes and price points. Allowing two or three houses on a lot would increase housing supply to meet the growing demand.
- Improves homeownership opportunities for low and moderate income families: Due to size and efficiency of land use, duplex and triplex homes often have lower purchase prices and are more likely affordable for middle and low income families. Homeownership remains the primary wealth-building investment for many households and is the backbone of the American Dream.
- Reduces environmental and climate impacts: Only allowing single-family homes perpetuates sprawl into our undeveloped green spaces and perpetuates our over-reliance on automobiles and the air and climate pollution they emit.
- Makes financial sense: Allowing more than one home per lot maximizes taxpayer investment in the existing public infrastructure like sewer, water, sidewalks, and roads. Less sprawl into undeveloped areas means shorter commute times and less economic productivity lost to traffic congestion.
To help us move away from the past, with an eye toward the future, we ask you to support the existing language of Policy 2.1 to legalize two, three, and four-family houses across the city.
Thank you for your consideration of this critical issue. Mike O’Sullivan, Chair, OneMECK Affordable Housing Committee
The County has had a policy of using foreclosure to attempt to collect property tax debts that are over 10 years old and are therefore barred from collection by the statute of limitations. However, the statute of limitations is not an automatic bar. A debtor must know that the statute exists and assert it as a defense to the foreclosure in writing. If the debtor does not know to do that, the court deems that defense waived, and the foreclosure may proceed. Hence, the homeowners most vulnerable to the county’s previous practice were lower income consumers who were unaware of their rights and unable to hire counsel.
OneMECK has been working with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to advocate for a change in the County’s policy. Good news! We have been informed by the County Attorney that they have suspended enforced collections of property tax debts over 10 years old.
Position paper sent to City Council by Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs
- We acknowledge that the City of Charlotte needs a Comprehensive Development Plan to replace the myriad neighborhood plans in existence today. We understand that Session Law 2019-111 may require the city to amend and/or enact certain ordinances before certain dates in the near future that will drive this process. Regardless, we believe it is more important for the city to adopt a quality plan rather than a quick one. We do not support a 6-month or 12-month delay in City Council’s approval of a plan. Much is at stake in determining what kind of city we want to by the year 2040.
- We believe that the city staff has crafted an excellent draft which coordinates most of the essential elements for good development. However, for most of us, a document of 318 pages is difficult to navigate and evaluate. To easily assist an effort to understand the draft, we suggest that the city’s executive summary list recommendations permitted under current state law and recommendations that depend on changes to state law. However, we believe that more safeguards for neighborhoods at risk of displacement are in order. In the interest of ensuring the Equitable Growth Metric of Vulnerability to Displacement (page 29 of the Public Review Draft), we believe that the concept and language relative to Policy Framework Goal 2: Neighborhood Diversity and Inclusion (pages 102-103 of Public Review Draft), need refinement to build in more protections against displacement for vulnerable neighborhoods.
- We believe that equity is the most important value underlying this Comprehensive Development Plan. Accordingly, the purpose in amending the single-family zoning should be to enhance diverse and affordable housing throughout the community. We suggest that any conversion of a single-family structure to a 3-plex or 4-plex structure should require that one of those units be affordable to a family at 50% of AMI or below. If amendment to state law and additional resources from local government are necessary to achieve that goal, the Comprehensive Development Plan should include a description of the means to that end.
- Here is an illustration of how an affordable unit would work in this proposal. The owner of a single-family house decides to replace it with a new 4-plex. Three of the units would be rented at market rates, which might be (depending on location) $1,200/month for a 1-BR, $1,400/month each for 2-BR units, and then a 3-BR unit would have to be priced to be affordable for a family of four who are at 50% of AMI. If we assume that the AMI in 2022 for Charlotte for a family of four will be approximately $80,000 annually, the 50% level would be $40,000 annually. To be affordable to such a family, we would calculate the total shelter cost at 30% of the annual income which would be $12,000, or $1,000 monthly. Subtracting a reasonable allowance for monthly utilities at $200, the affordable rent rate would be approximately $800/month. That amount would be approximately $700 below the market rate. The owner could absorb that sacrifice in budgeting for the overall profit of converting a single-rent building into a four-rent undertaking. Another option would be for the owner to accept a participant in the Housing Choice Voucher program which would enable the owner to receive the full market rate rent of $1,500/month, $800 directly from the resident and $700 directly from the Housing Choice Voucher. In either scenario a family gets an affordable dwelling in a desirable location. The community gets an equitable distribution of affordable units.
- Whereas to date the development of the Public Draft, and outreach for public comment, have been conducted by city staff, we believe that City Council should hold public hearings in each of the seven council districts. These hearings will ensure that residents in all parts of the city have the opportunity to directly provide our elected officials meaningful input to and understanding of the plan. Likewise, these hearings will also provide our City Council members an opportunity to explain what they propose to do in amending and adopting a final version of the Comprehensive Development Plan.
Note to City Council Members from Hannah-Marie Warfle
Thank you for supporting the use of Housing Trust Fund dollars to assist in the preservation of NOAH at Lake Mist Apartments. I hope that more of the HTF money can be used in this way so that my homeless clients will be able to move out of the shelter into an affordable apartment. However, we are going to need a few more affordable units to house all of the homeless and unstably housed individuals in Charlotte. It would help if ALL landlords and property managers would accept all types of income and consider housing applicants using their full applications not just by their response to questions regarding criminal history. Charlotte City Council could make this happen by passing a Fair Housing Ordinance. This action would send a strong message to our community: that Charlotte’s City Council stands with the Poor and Disenfranchised.
I am sure you have heard many reasons why a Fair Housing Ordinance that includes protection for those with criminal records and for those with non-traditional income sources, could be risky, legally. I acknowledge that many will be unhappy with this move and will challenge it in court. But fear of contention and legal battles cannot be the reason for inaction. If the Charlotte City Council really stands behind its most vulnerable constituents, those who most need champions to fight for them, then fear will not stand in the way.
The Pandemic has made action by our leaders more impactful and urgent, and Charlotte City Councilmembers are no exception. Taking action to pass a Fair Housing Ordinance would give hope and opportunity to thousands. Not just to the over 2,7001homeless individuals in our city, but also to the thousands of people living in hotels and the thousands of families cramming into tiny apartments, two and three at a time, just so they can afford the rent. I encourage you, Charlotte City Councilmembers, to be role models, prioritizing the most vulnerable over preserving the status quo and not rocking the boat.
Please, take action on behalf of Charlotteans in need of a fair chance to obtain a safe and decent place to live. Stand up for the Poor and Disenfranchised.
Note to the Board of County Commissioners from Mike O’Sullivan
I am writing on behalf of the OneMECK Affordable Housing Committee concerning the “Emergency Assistance and COVID-19 Response Fund Update” topic which is on the agenda for the 8/18/2020 meeting. The “Mortgage, Rent and Utility Assistance” presentation includes a proposal to move $3.4MM in Crisis Intervention Program (CIP) funding from Crisis Assistance to DSS. We strongly feel that it is in the best interest of the community that this CIP funding continue to be allocated to Crisis Assistance.
Crisis Assistance is the one stop shop for a financial emergency and financial stability coaching. They help people stay in their homes in times of financial crisis, then give financial counseling and provide an economic mobility program for people ready to move up the economic ladder.
There are over 100 agencies that refer their customers facing financial crisis directly to Crisis Assistance. It is the only place they have to refer people to. There is no need for them to figure out where to send people needing money for different needs.
If the County takes over administration of the $3.4MM in CIP funding, it has the potential to create complexity and delay. People will need to go to two locations, wait in line & fill out two applications, since CIP will only cover a portion of their emergency financial needs. And, it will be difficult for people to know where to go for what they need, because the criteria for CIP is very limited.
Having all primary funding streams in one location with Crisis Assistance (city, county, federal, faith, corporate, individual, Duke Energy, etc.) to resolve a rent or utility crisis provides a customer-centric model for the prevention of eviction and utility disconnection. This is an efficient process that has a well-established record of success.
For all of these reasons, we urge the County to continue to allocate CIP funding to Crisis Assistance. Thank you for your consideration, and for your service to our community.