After two years of work by Charlotte’s affordable housing advocates, a campaign to end discrimination against renters based on the source of their income is expected to peak within the next two months.
In 2019, a group of affordable housing organizations came together to prevent landlords from denying housing to tenants who use government housing vouchers, disability benefits, child support, old-timers’ benefits. fighter, social security checks and other forms of income to help pay their rent.
In April 2021, the city appointed seven people to the new ad hoc Source of Revenue Advisory Committee to research the issue and make recommendations. The committee is supported by Pamela Wideman, director of Charlotte Housing and Neighborhood Services, City Lawyers and Livian, formerly known as the Charlotte Housing Authority. The committee is due to meet on December 16, formalize its proposal, and then report to city council in early 2022.
In a meeting on November 18, Wideman reminded committee members of their mission.
“The charge of this committee is to expand the use of housing subsidies, all forms of housing subsidies, in our community – certainly including the right Housing Choice,” Wideman told them. “You’ve heard of Livian, you’ve heard from several other of our voucher partners, if you will, about how they use vouchers in this community.”
Skepticism among affordable housing advocates
Despite Wideman’s confidence in the end result of the committee’s work, some housing advocates are skeptical. Of the seven people selected by city council, three are developers and the president of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association, Kim Graham, co-chairs the committee.
“Developers still hold a lot of power in this city,” said Ryan Carter, a housing advocate who is now a program manager with Rebuilding Together of Greater Charlotte. Previously, he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the Charlotte Regional Partnership, and in 2016 was an associate researcher on public housing issues for the US House Financial Services Committee.
Income discrimination is often a problem in cities experiencing rapid urbanization and increased density, Carter said, exemplified by Charlotte’s rapid population growth. This burning real estate market, he said, reduces the incentive for homeowners to accept other forms of income because they know they can attract “ideal” tenants and bypass housing protections already in place. Since the problem occurs in specific urban areas, it is usually dealt with by local governments.
Progress in other cities
While Charlotte’s focus on the matter has tightened over the past two years, it’s not a new issue, Carter said. Atlanta, for example, adopted an ordinance banning sources of income discrimination in February 2020. The Atlanta ordinance said the model discriminates against low-income tenants and isolates people in low-income, high-poverty areas. He also cited a resolution from the American Bar Association urging municipalities to ban the practice, and listed several states and cities that have already adopted these policies.
Opposite perspectives of tenants and landlords
Without these protections, Charlotte tenants with assistance or vouchers face long wait times for application acceptance, with some applying to dozens of homes and paying hundreds of dollars in fees not. refundable without being accepted. Carter described the practice as a form of legal discrimination. Ninety-one percent of housing bond recipients in Charlotte are single black mothers, Carter said.
“By saying ‘We don’t accept the vouchers’, that wipes out four protected classes at once,” he said.
In a 2020 survey conducted by Inlivian, Charlotte property owners cited past bad experiences with processes and tenants, excess paperwork, lengthy inspections, lack of accountability for tenant and voucher programs, profitability less, loss of autonomy and other reasons. They also said they can easily find tenants who don’t require the lengthy voucher inspection process, a period during which landlords receive zero rent.
Some non-profit organizations have already created programs to fill the housing gap for voucher recipients. Families Together, a program run by YWCA Central Carolinas, is an 18-month referral program that partners with Inlivian to provide affordable housing for homeless families with children. The program provides the family with a townhouse on the YWCA’s Park Road property and provides resources for budgeting and goal setting. If families are looking for a job and complete a year of the program, they receive a federal housing voucher and support while they search for independent housing.
Kenya Henderson, director of Families Together, said clients were able to secure accommodation with vouchers at the end of the program, but long waiting lists are getting worse. She expects more challenges due to Charlotte’s booming real estate market. She said a key hurdle for tenants is the standard income level put in place by many landlords and developers, such as three times rent. Even with vouchers, she said, many working families are unable to meet these standards. The challenge isn’t usually money or vouchers – it’s about getting them accepted, Henderson said.
She said recipients of housing assistance carry a mythical stigma that must be dispelled, and that many tenants are essential workers simply driven from their communities. In the absence of a larger, more comprehensive solution, nonprofits like the YWCA and local churches are developing their own affordable housing solutions.
Publicly funded housing will require income protection
Publicly funded housing estates are one of the key issues in income protection. Charlotte has invested in several affordable housing developments and is working to stipulate the source of income protection as a condition of funding. At the November 18 meeting, Wideman highlighted projects funded by the city’s Housing Trust Fund that will have to accept all forms of housing subsidies. These included Varick on the 7th, an apartment complex scheduled for completion in 2023 with 105 units, 50 of which will be low-income for households earning 30%, 60% and 80% of the region’s median income. Fifty-five units will be leased at market rates.
Make income protection a campaign issue
As residents wait for government action, Carter encourages voter action. “We need this to be a campaign issue,” he said. “We have a lot of vacant seats on city council. Next year is going to be a crazy year at the polls. … If you are going to work for a candidate, ask them. If you go to candidate forums, ask them.
He said public interest in affordable housing issues was waning and it was easy to generalize voucher recipients into “another abstract”.
“This problem cannot go away. There are real demoralizing stories of people calling and calling and calling and nothing ever changes. “
Caroline Willingham of Durham, North Carolina, is a student at the James L. Knight School of Communication, which provides Queens University’s new service in supporting local community news.