The Charlotte Housing Crisis: When Returning Home Becomes a Luxury

The ongoing effects of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic inflation have further exacerbated the economic inequality in Charlotte, North Carolina, making the stratification between social classes more drastic and even more visible.

The Charlotte Housing Crisis project was created by Brandon Mallernee and its ultimate purpose is to show, in a clear and comprehensible manner, information surrounding the housing inequality in Charlotte, the disparity between rising costs and stagnant wages, and the racial inequality in the areas.

Charlotte, North Carolina, becomes a less affordable place to live with each day that passes. The cost of rent is rising astronomically in the city, approximately 19% over the last year, as is the cost of food, utilities, transportation, and many other facets of daily life. To afford life in the rising economic disparity, people are forced to take on multiple jobs or consider moving to somewhere more affordable. For some, the crisis has already taken its toll. The number of people who are experiencing homelessness in Charlotte rose to over 3,000 individuals in 2021, and many people face the threat of homelessness each passing month.

Environmental issues are inextricably connected to the housing crisis in Charlotte. As the environment changes, the economic conditions across the world become more strained, including in Charlotte. As the cost of healthcare rises, those who can’t afford it will be more likely to skip regular doctor appointments and other routine preventative medical care, which makes medical problems more likely. Homeless individuals are also less likely to have access to clean water and regular meals, which creates further health issues.

Homelessness is a major area of racial inequality. With black individuals constituting approximately 75% of the homeless population in Charlotte at any given time, it is evident that this issue disproportionately affects black communities.

Historic Overview

Charlotte’s housing issues started to become tangible ca. 1900, following the economic depression of the 1890s. Before this time, Charlotte had neither a designated district for the elite nor a distinct “black side” of the city. The depression prompted an attempt by both black voters and lower-to-middle-class white voters to change the local political system through a movement titled “the Fusion”. Enraged by the notion of the Fusion, the wealthy white elite in the area ushered in a period of white supremacy.

During this period, black communities were demonized and framed as scapegoats for issues in the region. This led to a boom in segregation around the year 1900, the separation between white and colored bled into almost every facet of life, including separate bibles used in the courthouse. in 1903, a law was established that required African Americans to sit at the back of streetcars, later transferring to buses.

Segregation was not limited to race during this time. There was also class segregation, evident by the existence of “restrictive covenants” in developing suburbs at the edges of the city limits. These covenants were defined by the statements “this property shall be used only by members of the Caucasian race” and “for a house costing not less than XXX dollars” on land deeds. These statements excluded both non-white individuals and individuals of a lower income. In 1903, a prosperous minister applauded the creation of textile mills on North Davidson Street because it set apart “the mill people” as “a class to themselves”, and proclaimed that separate churches and schools would fare better than those in which “mill people” and others are integrated.

Segregation, both racial and financial, gained momentum after its mainstream establishment ca. 1900. During the Great Depression, Washington asked local leaders throughout the country to map their cities according to which neighborhoods to which banks could safely lend money. Local leaders in Charlotte identified areas in which “men of property”, or wealthy white communities, were located as areas of least risk. African American communities were redlined as the most risk, and working-class white communities were marked as moderate to high risk. This process solidified the segregation of the communities of Charlotte, as least-risk areas were able to easily get loans, while moderate to high-risk areas had significantly more difficulty getting loans. Coding sections this way subsequently pulled all public construction projects, such as hospitals, away from the North and West parts of Charlotte toward the more wealthy South and East.

The following decades saw further segregation along both racial and financial lines. In the 1940s, the white and wealthy southeast neighborhoods received single-family development zoning, which other parts of the city did not receive. In the 1950s, interstates 77, 85, and 277 were planned to go through extant black neighborhoods, which had no say in the matter. In the 1960s, the idea of “urban renewal”, or the elimination of “blight” from the city in the name of modernization and improvement of infrastructure, swept through the city. During the urban renewal, Charlotte’s historic Brooklyn neighborhood, the heart of the black community in Charlotte, was destroyed. This destruction destroyed the homes of over 1,000 black families and over 200 businesses. In the 1970s, wealthy homebuyers congregated in the “wedge of wealth”, while everyone else in the city settled throughout the “crescent” surrounding the wedge. There has been historic resistance to the construction of affordable housing in the “wealth wedge”, which prevents lower-to-medium-class residents from leaving their historic areas. The continued physical separation of classes in Charlotte keeps homelessness and housing insecurity away from the wealthy white community, allowing them to turn a blind eye to the issue.

A Butler and Spratt Map, 1892

This map shows an expanding Charlotte, with a budding Dilworth to the Southeast. African American communities are depicted by dots, with Biddleville to the Northwest, Greenville, Irwinville to the North, and Blandville to the Southwest. The J.S. Myers cotton farm can be seen to the South, which is the future site of the Myers Park neighborhood.

A map depicting the “crescent-and-wedge”, with the wedge of wealth to the South and the rest of the city forming a crescent around it.

COVID-19 led to a boom in the homeless population in Charlotte. The number of homeless single individuals reached a high of 2,442 in January 2020 when the pandemic truly began to take hold. COVID-19 created many problems for homeless individuals in Charlotte. The lack of access to proper sanitary measures increased the risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19. The pandemic also led to an increase in the homeless population through the reduction of employment opportunities, which led to higher unemployment and, subsequently, a rise in the homeless population.

Data from mecklenburghousingdata.org

Rent and Wages

Rent has become one of the major concerns of people across the Charlotte metropolitan area. Rent in Mecklenburg County has increased by approximately 19% over the last year.

Citizens arrived at the Charlotte City Counsel meeting on Monday, April 9, 2018 with signs referencing affordable housing.

This increase has pushed the number of apartments that cost under $1,000 per month to accommodate under 1% of the total apartments in the area. A one-bedroom apartment in Mecklenburg County is priced at approximately $1,300, while a two-bedroom apartment is approximately $1,400 per month. Renting either of these apartments would require a yearly salary of $57,000 and $71,000, respectively.

While the cost of living rises steadily, the minimum wage in North Carolina hasn’t risen since 2008, when it was increased to $7.25 from $6.55. At this rate, a person making minimum wage would have to work approximately 116 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment at the median rent cost. A person working full-time at minimum wage would be able to afford a monthly rent payment of $377, which is well under half of the average monthly rent in Charlotte. While many people in Charlotte make above the minimum wage rate, affordable rent is still outside of their grasp.

Chart-w-Workers

For those who are unable to afford the price of living, the largest cost is eliminated: housing. In 2021, the number of people that were homeless, meaning they have nowhere to stay at all, rose to over 3,000 people, including 362 families.

Data from mecklenburghousingdata.org

The racial disparity in Mecklenburg County is evident in the statistics surrounding the percentage of homeless people of color in the county. Despite only comprising approximately 33% of the population of Mecklenburg County, the percentage of homeless people who are black is around 75% at any given time.

Data from mecklenburghousingdata.org

Homelessness affects individuals of all ages. The majority of homeless individuals are between the ages of 25 and 54, comprising 45% of the homeless population in 2021, while children below the age of 18 comprised 23% of the population.

Data from mecklenburghousingdata.org

This letter was written by Teresa, a woman who left an abusive relationship and now lives in a camp off of Statesville Road, detailing her experience being homeless.

Homelessness – For some, it’s a tragic end. For some, just a stop-in-between. For some, the only belongings they have are what they can fit in their tents. But one can tell by the way they rearrange and fuss over them, that they are their treasures – even though they were retrieved from a trash bin. Drugs seem to be the major contender here – that and loneliness. Most look so lost. It pains me to see women going in and out of tents – selling their bodies for drugs. Mere slaves to their addictions.

The issue of housing insecurity is systemic. It’s not simply one issue, but the result of many different issues. Class divide, racial inequality, stagnant wages, and several other injustices have resulted in the widespread housing crises that we see today, and they will continue to intensify the issue until the root issues are solved. Our actions as individuals may seem small, but our voices matter. Vote to make a world that you want to live in. Get involved in your local community and find out how you can help today.

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