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October 7, 2022

how to be a housing voter series: Advocating for Solutions to the Affordable Housing Crisis

By Liz Crouse

As the population in the United States continues to increase, one simple question arises: “Where will people live?” Conversations about affordable housing solutions have been on the rise in recent years, especially after the 2008 housing market crash and financial recession. Affordable housing is an ongoing issue that tries to identify a set of policies and practices to answer the question of where people will live as we continue to grow in our communities and as a country.


what is affordable housing?

“Affordable” is a subjective word that means different things for different individuals and communities. According to the North Carolina Housing Coalition (NCHC), “Housing is affordable when it comprises no more than 30% of a family’s budget. Families that spend more than this on housing are cost-burdened.”

When an area suffers a lack of homes that its residents can’t afford to buy, it enters an affordable housing crisis, making homes hard to rent and even harder to buy.

what is an affordable housing crisis?

By the definition coined by the NCHC, 31% of Mecklenburg County residents and 24% of Iredell County residents are cost-burdened. That means nearly one-third of individuals living in our community are victims of the affordable housing crisis, and many more are affected by it in other ways.

An affordable housing crisis occurs when the demand for housing significantly outweighs the supply, causing prices to increase to a level that some residents cannot afford. As a result, the number of foreclosures increases, and the rate of homelessness rises. While people most affected by affordable housing crises are identified as low- to moderate-income households, affordable housing crises negatively impact everyone in the community.

The Charlotte local government estimates that to affordably live—that is, spend 30% or less of your paycheck on—in a two-bedroom apartment in Mecklenburg County, you need to have a household income of at least $46,040. For Iredell County, that number is $36,920.

Let’s break down the math. The minimum wage in North Carolina is $7.25 an hour. If you make minimum wage and work full-time—40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year with no vacation days or sick leave—you will make $15,080 before taxes. That’s barely enough to pay for the housing itself, much less food, utilities, medical expenses, clothing, and other expenses—not to mention additional costs for children and other family members (aging parents or grandparents) that may need to be cared for.

The NCHC estimates that on average, professionals in the food service, childcare, retail, nursing, and construction industries make less than is needed to rent a two bedroom apartment in either county. Even individuals with degrees and careers face difficulties with affordable housing when the prices rise high enough. The median salary for a teacher in Mecklenburg County falls just above that benchmark.

how did the Charlotte area get into this crisis?

A number of factors have played into the housing crisis, and the complex interactions between different policies, interest groups, and environmental factors make it difficult to identify just one reason for the affordable housing crisis. That being said, there are some issues that significantly drive up housing prices:

Gentrification: Gentrification, or the process of a neighborhood becoming more high-end and desirable and therefore more expensive, is one of the largest contributors to rising housing prices. As once low-income neighborhoods begin to develop, the rents and property taxes rise, causing some residents to have to leave due to the newfound expenses of living in their neighborhoods. Read more about gentrification and displacement here.

Investment Purchasing of Affordable Units: With the increased demand for housing in Charlotte, investors and investment banks have started to purchase once-affordable housing units to transform them into higher end, more profitable rental units. This diminishes the supply of affordable homeownership opportunities for families in favor of highly profitable rentals. Learn more about investor purchased affordable housing here.

Source of Income Discrimination: Source of income discrimination (SOID) often precludes low- to mid-income individuals who have alternative sources of income, such as government-issued vouchers or child support, from finding affordable housing. Landlords turn away these individuals based on their sources of income, which disproportionately affects lower income individuals as well as racially and ethnically diverse communities. While not directly causing housing prices to rise, SOID does keep individuals in search of affordable housing out of the few options that are feasible for them.

how to advocate for solutions

The most up-to-date projections estimate that the city of Charlotte needs approximately 32,000 affordable units to house all the individuals who do not currently have access to affordable housing. With housing costs increasing faster than salaries are adjusting, more than 3,000 Charlotte residents are homeless, and even more are paying well over 30% of their paycheck for housing, which is considered the benchmark for affordable housing.

Supporting organizations that construct affordable housing and advocate for policy change that prioritizes affordable housing is one of the easiest ways to be a part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis. In addition, be sure to research candidates and measures when you vote to ensure support for champions of affordable housing and homeownership. Read more about voting for affordable housing in our first blog post of this series.

For the November 8th election, Housing Bonds will be on the ballot in Charlotte.  You can read more about the importance of these bonds here.  These funds are key to developing new affordable housing units in Charlotte, but not everyone knows the importance of these bonds.  You can help by providing voter education outside of the polls. Sign up at VOTE YES FOR BONDS! to receive training and volunteer to be a bond educator on election day.

Most importantly, spread the word about the importance of affordable housing in Charlotte with your friends, family, and elected officials!

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