Affordable housing issue flares up at first mayoral debate

Affordable housing issue flares up at first mayoral debate

CHARLOTTE, NC (Jim Morrill/The Charlotte Observer) - A July vote on affordable housing became a flashpoint at Charlotte's first mayoral debate Thursday night when Republican Kenny Smith criticized Democrat Vi Lyles for voting against a GOP housing proposal.

Smith also criticized the city council's vote last year for the ordinance that led to House Bill 2.

The two appeared at a Black Political Caucus debate taped for broadcast Sunday by Spectrum, formerly News 14.

It was the first meeting between Lyles, the mayor pro tem, and Smith, who represents southeast Charlotte District 6.

The housing vote came up when Smith questioned the value of Lyles' long experience in city government as an administrator and member of the city council.

In July Lyles opposed a move by Republican council member Ed Driggs to use hotel/motel tax money to pay for planned improvements to Bojangles' Coliseum. That would have freed up as much as $18.5 million for other projects including affordable housing.

At the time the city was still considering using hotel/motel tax revenues to help land a major league soccer franchise.

At the July meeting, Lyles accused Driggs of "political tricks" and said she didn't feel comfortable "making those kinds of decisions quickly" and voted against his plan.

"I was willing to take money from soccer," Smith said Thursday night. "She wasn't."

Responding, Lyles said she was against the proposed soccer investment and suggested the July vote was "political."

"To say that I did not support affordable housing?" she said, adding that when she was a city administrator she designed a bond package for affordable housing.

Smith also criticized Lyles and the council's Democratic majority for passing last year's anti-discrimination ordinance, which among other things would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. The General Assembly responded by passing HB2, which led to job losses and economic boycotts of the state.

Smith said the city could have done more to address economic inequality if not for that.

"It's about priorities," he said. "We chose to pursue bathrooms (instead of economic mobility.)"

Both candidates implicitly criticized another Democrat, Mayor Jennifer Roberts.

Lyles said she would be more collaborative than Roberts. When the mayor was making public statements, she said, "I was working with council." Smith said he would focus on Charlotte instead of "flying to fundraisers around the country."