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Housing Partnership targets growing need

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Pat Garrett

Pat Garrett

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the early 2000s, affordable-housing advocates in the Charlotte area made a big push to develop homes that people with low and moderate incomes could own, says Pat Garrett, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership.

But when the economy collapsed three years ago, she says, it became clear that many people who bought those houses were overextended financially, often because of the complex financing tools lenders had provided.

Today, with many people unable to afford houses and with others evicted from their homes because of foreclosures, demand for affordable apartments has soared, and the Housing Partnership is working to help meet that demand, Garrett says.

After razing 600 apartments, the agency in the past three years has developed three new apartment complexes with a total of 216 apartments in the Double Oaks neighborhood north of downtown.

Those apartments are part of a 10-year project that could cost up to $100 million and will include 300 affordable rental apartments, at least 100 affordable houses, and possibly retail and commercial space.

Opened in 1989 and operating with an annual budget of $2.5 million and a staff of 38 people, the Housing Partnership focuses on housing revitalization, counseling and financial-literacy education for prospective homeowners, and development of affordable housing.

The agency recently received a federal NeighborWorks grant of $450,000 to rehabilitate 49 units at the Shelton Knoll Apartments, a property it has owned since 1995.

It also will use the funds to renovate for future rental five houses it owns near Johnson C. Smith University.

Financial-literacy training has been a big focus at the Housing Partnership, which in 2010 counseled 425 people facing foreclosure.

Overall, the agency owns roughly 350 housing units, mainly apartments, but also duplexes and single-family homes, and is developing 85 apartment units at the intersection of South Tryon Street and Westinghouse Boulevard.

And it manages roughly 1,000 units.

Garrett says the Partnership is working to help meet demand for affordable housing that has grown in recent years.

Annual income is less than $39,000 for a family of four living in apartments the agency built at Double Oaks, and will be less than $53,000 for a family of four living in homes it will build there.

The rental units have been funded mainly with federal tax credits through the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, with Bank of America and Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank purchasing the credits from the Partnership, which also received funding from the city of Charlotte.

Garrett says the agency continues to look for new opportunities for tax-credit financing, and for new properties where it can develop affordable housing.

Demand for apartments represents as much as three times the number the Housing Partnership currently manages, she says.

And the tough economy has compounded the gap between supply and demand for rental housing, a gap deepened by a lack of funding and shortage of subcontractors and building materials.

“We’re all going to suffer painfully,” Garrett says, “as prices increase and we have to find additional funds.”

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