City Council Talks Affordable Housing, Economic Development at Durham Retreat

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Mayor Lyles opens the 2018 City Council Planning Retreat last week in Durham

DURHAM, NC — When Mayor Vi Lyles and the Charlotte City Council arrived in Durham Wednesday afternoon for the start of their 3-day planning retreat, the stage had already been set for a fascinating interplay between a series of emerging dynamics: Young vs. Old, Millennial vs. Boomer, Revolution vs. Status Quo. And with a menu of topics on their plate ranging from affordable housing and job creation, to sewer capacity and the completion of a new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), the conversation and debate was sure to be one for the books.

Affordable Housing dominated Day 2 of the retreat, which was held at the comfortable Washington-Duke Inn, just outside the Duke University campus. After an economic overview by the always-fascinating Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner, council members jumped into a full-throated discussion about affordable housing and creating ‘great’ neighborhoods — without once recognizing that the two goals may, in fact, be somewhat incompatible. Some of the highlights:

  • Mark Vitner’s smart comment attributing Charlotte’s dead-last ranking on economic mobility to a flaw in the analysis. Because top incomes in Charlotte are growing much faster than in other cities, Vinter said we were at a built-in disadvantage when measuring the ability of residents to move from the bottom of the income ladder to the very top. Instead, he said the measurement should have looked at the ease of moving from the bottom to somewhere in the MIDDLE.
  • On housing affordability, Vitner said Charlotte was actually doing much better than other major American metros (has anyone checked rents in Seattle lately?). The challenges we face, he said, result from the growing appeal of urban living. The solution? Create job opportunities for people at all income levels, giving them the opportunity to afford housing in the local market.
  • The admission by Assistant City Manager Debra Campbell that Charlotte’s web of outdated zoning and land use ordinances were making development more complicated (and, I’ll add, expensive). Campbell also acknowledged the challenge of revitalizing neighborhoods through infill development when longtime residents don’t want change.
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Affordable housing experts Maurice Jones (LISC), Dionne Nelson (Laurel Street), Mark Etheridge (LCRE Capital) and Julie Porter (Housing Parnership) talk with Council in Durham

After hearing from representatives of the affordable housing industry, including Julie Porter of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership and Dionne Nelson of Laurel Street Residential), council members came up with a list of short- and long-term steps the City could take to make progress on the issue. They include:

  • Reviewing, and possibly revising, the City’s Housing Locational Policy;
  • Increasing the size of the Housing Trust Fund;
  • Creating a Real Estate Transfer Tax to fund affordable housing initiatives (which would be both illegal and fiercely opposed by REBIC).
  • Developing a housing plan for artists & teachers;
  • Expanding the acquisition of existing affordable housing to ensure its preservation in the face of gentrification; and,
  • Identifying opportunities to expedite affordable housing construction on publicly owned land.

Mayor Lyles asked staff to identify action steps that could advance at least of these ideas within the next 60 days, with the Locational Policy being a top priority. She also called for the immediate creation of a Council ad-hoc committee to provide input on the creation of the UDO, which newly hired Planning Director Taiwo Jaiyeoba said was critical to help reduce regulatory conflict between city ordinances.

Council is scheduled to discuss these next steps in greater depth when it meets Monday night for its first 5 p.m. Strategy Session. At a minimum, look for a decision on the creation of a Council UDO committee, and possibly the discussion of some short-term action steps on affordable housing.

 

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