Dear United Way Family,
In July of 2019, Lake Arbor’s property management company informed residents of nearly 150 apartments that they would have to vacate their homes by December 31, 2019. The imminent mass displacement galvanized the Charlotte community. Shortly thereafter, United Way of Central Carolinas launched a fundraising campaign to support Lake Arbor residents, and the community responded with $268,000 in donations.
Recognizing the need far exceeded the capacity of any single agency, United Way also asked a number of public and private nonprofit agencies to help the residents relocate. Twelve agencies responded and, since last July, helped to rehouse nearly 75% of the 128 households who sought assistance.
The success of those agencies’ combined efforts is to be commended. They represent a shining example of the power of collective giving and coordinated service delivery.
This situational progress, however, must not obscure the reality that housing displacement and evictions occur every day in Charlotte and will continue to happen at ever-accelerating rates until we, as a community, address the systemic problems that contribute to the loss of existing affordable housing, perpetuate discriminatory housing practices and ultimately prevent equitable access to opportunity.
In recent years Charlotte has rallied to address the affordable housing crisis. Voters approved $50 million in bonds to build affordable housing and the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund matched the voters’ investment, raising an additional $53 million.
However, it will take years to see the impact of these investments. Meanwhile, Charlotte is losing affordable housing units faster than they can be built. We must deploy all the tools available to us to protect our current supply of affordable housing and remove the barriers that prevent access to housing.
How do we preserve affordable housing? An important first step is to continue efforts to strengthen, and then use, code enforcement. Landlords who fail to maintain their properties must be held accountable, and the revenue generated from any fines should be reinvested to preserve existing housing.
Other cities including Dallas, Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Francisco and Chapel Hill have chosen an even more aggressive response of purchasing affordable rental apartments and using ‘master leasing’ to help displaced residents avoid homelessness. By doing so, they are increasing the affordable housing stock for those most in need.
How do we ensure access to existing affordable housing? We can advocate for legislative changes that would prevent landlords from discriminating against residents because of the source of their rental income. Under North Carolina law, a landlord can refuse to accept any housing voucher or other form of rental subsidy, even when the subsidy is permanent.
Similarly, we can destigmatize evictions. At Lake Arbor, 15% of the residents struggled to secure housing because of a past eviction. The Lake Arbor crisis team of agencies worked with those families to overcome this significant barrier. Sadly, such emergency support is not available to more than 2,700 households facing eviction proceedings each month in Mecklenburg County, because of limited funding for legal counsel. An eviction can leave the family homeless even after they remedy the cause for the eviction filing.
We can look to other communities for additional remedies. In Los Angeles, state law allows cities to implement ordinances outlining the legal reasons for eviction and to specify when the landlord must pay to support tenant relocation. North Carolina law could be amended to allow Mecklenburg and other urban counties to impose similar restrictions.
We responded as a community when Lake Arbor residents faced displacement. We must continue to respond with ever-louder voices and more insistent demands when one by one, rising housing costs and stagnant wages push our neighbors out of their homes. The policy solutions are not theoretical. They are working in other communities. Our elected officials and community leaders must hear and respond to our community’s support for the reforms needed to create a more equitable housing system.
Laura Yates Clark, President and CEO
United Way of Central Carolinas