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UNCC report addresses affordable housing

A new report from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute presents 12 strategies other cities are using to develop affordable housing, with a focus on the financial feasibility of developing affordable housing and ensuring long-term affordability, according to a press release from the school.

Of the 12 strategies used elsewhere, some, such as tax-increment financing or selling public land at a reduced price, have been used upon a few occasions.

Other tools have not been used in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and may warrant more local exploration, the report said. They include:

  • Expedited permitting processes and reduced or rebated permitting fees for developers of affordable housing.
  • Land use incentive policies, which provide grants and/or reduced fees to encourage affordable housing development. In Asheville, for example, the grants are financed by a property tax differential, i.e., deferring the tax revenue the city would have received.
  • A zoning overlay for affordable housing, which creates a special type of zoning district with modified standards that apply to affordable housing developments.
  • Community land trusts, which are usually nonprofit groups, own land and build affordable housing on it. The residences, but not the land, are sold with resale restrictions and affordability requirements to homebuyers.
  • Employer-assisted housing, a program partly or fully financed by an employer to benefit employees.

Other tools highlighted in the report are already in use in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, such as Charlotte’s Housing Trust Fund, established in 2001, which provides gap financing to affordable housing developers.  To date the city has dedicated $100 million to the trust fund.

Another strategy – requiring a certain number of units in new development to be affordable, a tool known as inclusionary zoning – is used in many other cities in other states. Charlotte has a voluntary version of this, which lets developers build more densely if they include affordable units, but this option has never been used.

The report looks at how the various strategies have worked in other cities, describing plusses and minuses for the different approaches and providing context for how each strategy might relate to Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

The affordable housing discussion in Charlotte-Mecklenburg comes amid challenging conditions:  increasing housing prices, wages not keeping pace with housing costs, increasing population, a majority of low-income renters who are cost-burdened, and disparities of opportunity along race and economic lines.

Although this report focuses on strategies for developing affordable housing, it acknowledges those strategies need to be used in conjunction with other tools, such as housing rehabilitation and preservation.

The report is intended as a first step and conversation-starter for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community to discuss how these strategies could work in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

The report was funded by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services and written on behalf of the Housing Advisory Board of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The report is the second in the 2016 series of county-funded reports exploring housing instability and homelessness.

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