Affordable housing is a hot topic in our community. New construction is part of the solution, but timelines are long and the prospect of neighborhood backlash presents formidable barriers. Yet building in less desirable neighborhoods reinforces Charlotte’s damaging pattern of segregation.
A Way Home
A new solution called A Way Home creates affordable housing quickly — even in desirable school districts — by temporarily subsidizing rents in existing market-rate apartments scattered throughout the city. No construction permits, no neighborhood protests. With social worker help, A Way Home families typically increase their wages and then pay 100% of their own rent after two years.
Stories of these newly self-sufficient families are uplifting. One mom with a history of eviction and domestic abuse now earns $11.10/hour, up from $10. She recently renewed her lease after the subsidy ended, enabling her children to remain in their same schools for three consecutive years. Another mom, now employed full-time at $14.50/hour and paying her own rent, said, “I do not know where I would be had it not been for this program.”
The A Way Home families had faced a heartbreaking combination of housing barriers when they entered the program: not only homelessness, but often eviction, poor credit, and minimum wage jobs. Yet the majority of parents were successfully housed and working after exiting the program. Nearly half remained in their same apartments after the subsidies ended, establishing three years of history as stable tenants and providing consistent schools and classmates for their children. Furthermore, the 2017 Leading on Opportunity report identified expanded affordable housing, desegregation, and access to social capital as critical components to healing our city – all outcomes of this program.
From Homelessness to Stability
What is the price for this powerful transition from homelessness to stability? A Way Home costs only $9,100 per family in rental subsidies – less than $3,000 per person. The costs of the social workers are covered by the agencies receiving A Way Home grants, with some help from Mecklenburg County. In contrast, the subsidized component of new construction can easily be three times that amount.
The innovative concept of A Way Home is that income from a public/private endowment funds the rental subsidies, creating a perpetual flow of new affordable housing. Once the $20 million A Way Home endowment is fully funded in 2019, the resulting income will then move 80-100 new families into rental apartments every year. A three-year pilot program funded by generous churches, the Foundation For The Carolinas, and others launched A Way Home, but existing subsidy commitments mean that no new families will be housed until this summer.
How can you help?
Lead your congregation to contribute pilot funding or endowment principal for A Way Home to move more families out of homelessness sooner. Arrange a meeting between HousingCLT and an apartment owner/manager to learn the details of leasing one unit to an A Way Home family. Join us at the Stan Greenspon Center to advocate for affordable housing in our community.
It’s time to look for new solutions to old problems. It’s time to not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk.”
Judy Seldin-Cohen is a community advocate and author. She serves on the governance board of A Way Home and on the advisory board for the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice.