OneMECK Position on Charlotte’s 2040 Comprehensive Development Plan

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