Mar 15, 2018 - News

Why even Charlotte millionaires should care about affordable housing

The numbers don’t lie: Charlotte’s rent is endlessly increasing, older apartments are continually being torn down for high-dollar abodes, and low-income people are increasingly being pushed into substandard housing or having to dedicate nearly all their paycheck to rent.

Affordable housing has never been more important locally.

It’s a moral issue, to be sure. But let’s be honest: Charity will only go so far. True progress on fixing our affordable housing problem will only come if we view it as a problem for everyone instead of just the right thing to do.

Why should the millionaire in a gated SouthPark neighborhood care about affordable housing?

On the surface, the reason isn’t clear. Isn’t it a good thing for property values to rise? Don’t we want our city’s population to be highly educated and affluent?

For our purposes here, affordable housing primarily means rental homes accessible to people making less than the city’s median income.

[Agenda story: What does affordable housing mean in Charlotte?]

The greatest need is for homes affordable for people making less than half of that median income, or around $30,000 for a family of three. It’s also the area where there seems to be the most disconnect between the affluent and the low-income in our city.

1) Affordable housing boosts the city’s future income.

Today, Charlotte’s concentrated wealth and impoverished neighborhoods are having a deleterious effect on the future income of children growing up here.

A study from Harvard professor Raj Chetty shows that low-income kids in the Charlotte area are earning roughly 14 percent less at age 26 than low-income children from the average city.

Here are the top cities.

There are a lot of potential reasons for this. Low-income families who don’t have access to affordable housing tend to move a lot or have periods of homelessness, which has negative impacts on children in school.

Housing stability is also the base on which low-income families can then take further steps: applying for jobs, enrolling in school, etc.

Solving this problem creates the educated workforce that big companies look for.

Yes, a lot of these things only play out in the long-term. But your home values are a long-term investment, too.

2) Lack of affordable housing indirectly affects the cost of health care.

Rent-burdened households have less money to spend elsewhere, including on health care. These families thus tend to use higher-cost forms of acute care — like hospital emergency rooms — and then not be able to pay, driving up health care costs for everyone, including you.

3) Affordable housing frees up money to spend elsewhere.

Retailers, restaurants, etc. If you own a small business, you could benefit from affordable housing.

4) Affordable housing development creates jobs and adds to the tax base.

Construction jobs, obviously. Then, of course, there are all the fees to local government for permitting, utilities, etc. Affordable housing development also often takes underutilized land and converts it to taxable property.

5) Lack of affordable housing pushes people to the fringes of the city or the suburbs.

People will continue to move to the Charlotte area, it’s just a matter of where. Pushing people outside the core of the city lengthens commute times and keeps people from accessing mass transit — both of which increase traffic.

6) Lack of affordable housing can slow economic growth.

Job growth has spillover effects across the entire regional economy. But new jobs require workers to fill them, and job announcements often have positions with salaries across a spectrum.

Not having housing to fill these jobs can keep businesses from coming, leading to slower economic growth, according to researchers from George Mason University.


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