This report shows why so many people struggle to afford housing in Charlotte

This report shows why so many people struggle to afford housing in Charlotte
A light rail train passes through New Bern St. at Rail Crossing Lane station heading to uptown Charlotte on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. (Credit: Observer archives)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - Home prices and rents in Charlotte have risen much faster than wages in Charlotte, and that, combined with a building boom focused on high-end apartments, is driving the city's growing affordability problem.

Those are some of the conclusions of a new report, "Housing Charlotte," that a City Council committee reviewed a draft of on Monday.

"While significant progress has been made over the past decade to increase the supply of affordable housing in Charlotte, the reality is that housing is becoming less affordable," the report says.

The analysis, composed by city staff and Enterprise Community Partners, looks at possible strategies to help create more affordable housing in Charlotte, such as letting people build accessory dwellings for family members on their residences and establishing a new fund to acquire land for affordable housing.

City Council is planning to increase the amount of bond money available to subsidize new affordable housing developments from $15 million to $50 million every two years, a change voters will decide on at the ballot box in November.

Here are some of the key facts about the state of housing affordability in Charlotte now:

  • Adjusted to 2016 dollars, home prices have increased 36 percent and rent has gone up 24 percent in Charlotte since 1990. During that same time, the median household income went up just 4 percent.
  • As a consequence, 34 percent of households in Charlotte — about 1 in 3 — are "cost-burdened," meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing. That number is heavily concentrated among renter households, who represent just under half of all households in Charlotte but account for 69 percent of cost-burdened households. And 15 percent of households in Charlotte, a total of more than 46,000, are spending more than 50 percent of their monthly income on housing costs. That makes them "housing insecure," and puts them at high risk of being evicted if there are any unanticipated changes in their budget.
  • There's a particularly big shortage of housing for households making 50 percent or less of the area's median income — about $36,000 and below. And the shortage gets worse the lower down the income scale you go.

"The city has a total deficit of nearly 24,000 units for households at and below 50 percent of area median income, which is driven by a significant gap in rental housing for households at and below 30 percent of area median income," the report says. That's problematic, because housing for very low-income renters requires the biggest subsidies to develop.

  • Housing for low-income renters is disappearing fast. Contrary to popular belief, only about 11 percent of housing in Charlotte is subsidized (either with development funding or rental vouchers). The vast majority of affordable housing is privately owned and operated, and most of it takes the form of older, cheaper apartments known as "naturally occurring affordable housing," or the somewhat cumbersome acronym NOAH.

And those older, naturally affordable apartments are fast being redeveloped, often upgraded or replaced outright with luxury apartments.

"The city lost more than half its supply (nearly 28,000 units) of large-scale NOAH for households earning 50 percent of area median income or below between 2013 and 2017," a loss that's likely to continue or even pick up speed.

  • And Charlotte's growing population is likely to keep up the pressure on housing prices. Between 2020 and 2030, an additional 271,000 residents are expected — more than the estimated 224,000 people the expected to add to the city's population between 2010 and 2020. That means that the phenomenon of rising rents and home prices driven by growing demand isn't likely to let up anytime soon.