Summary of Charlotte’s efforts to improve economic mobility | WFAE 90.7
Charlotte has invested approximately $400 million in expanding pre-kindergarten and creating and preserving affordable housing as ways to improve children’s chances of escaping poverty. The push came after Charlotte ranked last among 50 major cities in a Harvard and University of California-Berkeley study of economic mobility, commonly known as the Chetty study. We have reported the community has not found a way to measure its progress on opportunities. As part of our growing focus on issues of race and equity, we are taking a closer look at where efforts are in these areas.
A look at the expansion of pre-kindergarten
Local leaders have pushed to expand pre-kindergarten as an early investment to prepare children for future success. Mecklenburg County began funding its own program, Meck Pre-K, four years ago. The private sector donated $6 million to help increase the number of qualified teachers for the additional classrooms. The idea was to expand pre-K places for low-to-moderate income families and eventually provide them to everyone, regardless of income. It happened this school year, a year earlier. Tim Gibbons, who oversees the county’s early childhood initiatives, says demand was weaker than expected.
“It could be an awareness among families of what is out there and what is available to them. Or, we just see a lot of uncertainty and fear around COVID and people wanting to keep their kids home.
This year, the county is spending just over $23 million to MECK Pre-K for a total investment of $69 million. This program, along with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Bright Beginnings, which is partly funded by the county, and the state’s Pre-K program, serves a total of 5,800 children in the county. That’s 45% more than before Meck Pre-K started. The county’s goal was to reach 9,600 by 2024. Jake House, the chief of Mecklenburg County Smart Start worries about a shortage of childcare workers amplified by the pandemic.
“Our vision is to have a true universal pre-kindergarten across this county. I fundamentally believe the demand will be there, but right now we have a supply issue.”
Any gains these students might make are dwarfed by a sharp drop in learning for students of all ages since the coronavirus pandemic began and CMS was put on hold.
A Look at Affordable Housing
If you want to see Charlotte’s push for affordable housing in action, head to the one-mile stretch of West Sugar Creek Road around I-85 in northeast Charlotte. Since 2018, Charlotte’s Housing Trust Fund has supported the construction of over 400 affordable apartments.
Greg Jackson created the nonprofit Cure Charlotte. He runs a shelter in a hotel up the street and lives nearby.
“You can look and say, ‘Oh, wow, there’s shiny new buildings everywhere. And we’ve done our job,’ Jackson said. “Yes, the city has built so much affordable housing, right? But what did you place around those dwellers to get them from 50 to 50 and increase their mobility and it didn’t happen.
Indeed, Charlotte has built and preserved nearly 4,600 affordable housing units over the past four years. Voters approved $100 million in bonds to support this effort. The private sector contributed approximately $160 million.
Jackson points to the lack of grocery stores and doctor’s offices. There are several hotels, some in poor condition, which serve as residences for many people.
“And then you have a plasma center right in front of the hotels. And then you have nothing but fast food around hotels,” he said.
The area is one of six that the city focuses on through its Corridors of Opportunity program designed to create jobs, improve infrastructure and transport. And Charlotte’s 2040 Plan aims to address some of the same things. But that’s a long-term view. To meet a pressing need, most of the homes the Housing Trust Fund has supported in recent years are in areas where it is cheaper to build.
“I get calls all day. But at the end of the day, there’s nowhere I can really refer people,” said Jessica Moreno, a tenant organizer at Action NC. “There’s no housing that I can say, these are the housings that you don’t have to wait years, decades to get listed, to get affordable housing for you.”
It’s hard to say how bad the affordable housing shortage is today. The city calculates these numbers based on census figures. The most recent date from three years ago. That puts the shortage for Mecklenburg County at nearly 30,756 rental units, affordable for a family of four with a household income of $42,000 per year. In 2017, this number was estimated at 35,540.
“I don’t think it’s surprising to hear that housing instability and homelessness are increasing,” said Courtney LaCaria, housing researcher in Mecklenburg County. “These were things that were already trending and in the wrong direction before the pandemic, and they’ve only gotten worse as a result.”
In 2021, average apartment rental prices increased by nearly $200, with the biggest increases being among the lowest-priced units.
The fair market rent for the Charlotte area is $1,151. This is the amount the federal government estimates it would take to rent a modest, safe, and clean 2-bedroom apartment.
Home prices have seen similar jumps
The median home price in the Charlotte area has risen by $92,814 since the start of the pandemic, with just over a third of homes costing less than $300,000.
People looking to buy those cheaper homes have extra competition these days. Wall Street-backed firms that can make cash offers, often above the asking price, are raking in big bucks. An analysis by the Urban Institute at UNC Charlotte last spring found that these companies owned 4.3% of single-family homes in Mecklenburg County.
“We have people moving to Charlotte every day. Charlotte is an amazing place to live,” said Ralphine Caldwell, who leads the Charlotte office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC. “But we also know that our current residents need affordable housing and the costs continue to rise.”
LISC is a New York-based nonprofit committed to helping manage Charlotte’s affordable housing effort. The greatest need for affordable housing is at the extreme — for example, a four-person household earning $26,000 a year — yet less than a quarter of the units Charlotte has created or preserved in recent years were intended for people earning less. this. Caldwell says that’s because it’s expensive — not just to fund them, but also to provide services so residents don’t flounder.
“You need to have enough financial support to be able to put them in a position where they can stay and maintain their dignity while continuing to benefit from the services offered by certain organizations.”
Looking towards Lakeview
Housing prices are rising in many areas that have long been affordable. You can see it in the Lakeview neighborhood northwest of Charlotte. It offers a view of the city center rooftops. Landlords here are receiving many offers to sell and rents are rising, forcing long-time residents to leave. Countering this is a priority of the Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance.
The group’s director, Lakeview resident Jamall Kinard, led a meeting in a church fellowship hall.
“We can’t build a community if people are at risk of being kicked out of their homes,” Kinard said, reviewing the group’s priorities for “Economic Mobility. OK, if we’re making you stay in Lakeview, how can we put you in a position where you improve your situation?”
Lakeview has many challenges, but there is also hope among residents – and those watching from the outside, to see if the solutions offered by the neighborhood can be part of a larger response not just to preserve affordable housing, but also to increase opportunities for Charlotte. residents with the lowest incomes. United Way, Bank of America and First Presbyterian Church have given the neighborhood funds to use as they see fit to help build community leadership and engage residents.
Johnny Sibley has lived in Lakeview since the 1970s. He says gentrification has hit hard in recent years, but things are looking up and he credits the alliance for that.
“Because we have someone standing up for us. There are the new condos coming in,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure they have what we call affordable housing, so people in that community can afford to go there.”
Teddy McDaniel, the leader of the Urban League of Central Carolinas, says that with investments like these in Lakeview and similar neighborhoods, he sees a shift from what he calls patriarchal philanthropy to empowering groups who have dealt firsthand with the impacts of segregation and racism.
“For us to kind of fill in some of those gaps, you have to go hyperlocal, right-wing, hyper in those groups, sit with those people, understand their challenges.”
And he says, let them decide what will give them a better chance.