Housing boost

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Created by the Charlotte City Council four years ago to boost affordable housing for low-income people, the Housing Trust Fund has invested nearly $23 million and spurred development of more than 1,800 residential units.

Those dollars, which have generated more than $104 million in additional investment, were drawn from a pool of $47 million the city has allocated to the Housing Trust Fund from the city budget, two bond issues approved by voters and the sale of land in the First Ward.

Yet the supply of affordable housing still lags local needs, with unmet demand totaling nearly 10,200 rental units for people with annual income of $16,000 or less, and nearly 1,100 homes priced less than $60,000, according to preliminary data from a city study to be released soon.

To help plug those gaps, the seven-member advisory board for the trust fund has created a Charlotte Housing Fund at the Foundation for the Carolinas to raise private dollars.

Based on a feasibility study being conducted by the Charlotte fundraising firm Vandever Batten, the private fund tentatively hopes to launch a capital campaign that could total as much as $15 million, says Stanley Watkins, staff adviser to the trust fund and director of neighborhood development for the city.

“We will be talking to potential donors over the next few months to see if the whole concept is feasible,” Watkins says.

The private fund, pooling its dollars with those of the trust fund, would invest in new housing developments, and then receive a return based on rent or mortgage payments, with income from investments reinvested in future housing developments.

“Not only will donors invest in a fund that will get some return on the capital, but it will get a return on the capital over time, and those funds in time will be reinvested in housing,” Watkins says.

Pat Garrett, executive director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, a nonprofit housing developer and finance agency, says the additional funds for affordable housing are needed.

“We’re not meeting all the needs that the city has,” she says.

The Housing Trust Fund was created in the wake of a study the city council launched in 1999 that found a crisis in affordable rental and owner-occupied housing in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

In creating the trust fund, the council agreed to dedicate $50 million over five years to provide more affordable housing for low-income and moderate-income people and add 5,000 affordable units.

After an initial commitment of $10 million, the council also secured voters’ approval of two bond issues in 2002 and 2004 totaling $35 million, and designated to the trust fund $2 million from the First Ward land sale.

In addition to investing in new housing, the trust fund also aims either to buy land for future development of affordable housing near the 16 stations planned for the light-rail line scheduled to open late next year or early in 2007, or to work with developers to set aside for affordable housing a percentage of units they plan to develop.

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