Apartments near Charlotte's light rail | Image via Shutterstock Apartments near Charlotte's light rail | Image via Shutterstock

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership issued an apology for falling “short in the planning and execution of the event.”

The organization behind a new housing project in Charlotte issued an apology on Wednesday for forcing nearly 1,000 prospective renters to brave the rain and cold earlier this week just to apply for a shot at affordable housing.

On Monday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership hosted an application in-take event at the Mezzanine at Freedom Apartments on the west side of town. Of the 185 units, 129 will be reserved for income-qualified renters. 

Officials, however, were not prepared for the hundreds that showed up.

“It was not an acceptable experience for our customers and for that we are truly sorry,” the Housing Partnership wrote on Facebook. “For a variety of reasons, the event did not meet the high standards we hold for serving our community.” 

Monday’s event only scrapes the surface of Charlotte’s affordable housing shortage. Officials say the city is short 34,000 units based on demand—nearly twice the number from a decade ago. 

Exacerbating the housing crisis is the high cost of rent: Since 2010, local rents have surged by 45%, and approximately 46,000 Charlotteans spend more than half of their income on rent. Financial experts recommend paying no more than 30% of income on rent.

Charlotte is the fifth fastest growing city in the nation, adding roughly 134,000 residents since 2010. The combination of that growth, development, and gentrification have priced lower- and middle-income residents out of neighborhoods and made it nearly impossible to find an affordable place to live. 

Housing instability has disproportionately affected renters of color, which was apparent on Monday, according to Charlotte Agenda. Sharmae Reddick, who currently lives in the University City area, told the Agenda that it was difficult to accept the reality of having to line up with a thousand other people just for the chance to get affordable housing. 

“It’s sad also that we, as black people—I’m sorry—as you see, it comes to this, to get affordable housing,” she said. “It’s just sad that Charlotte has gotten to this, where they don’t have affordable housing for people like us, of color.”

Only 19 of the units in the $30 million Mezzanine project slated to open later this year are reserved for the city’s lowest-income families. Those will include people who earn less than 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which would be $23,700 for a family of four. A one-bedroom apartment for someone in that bracket would rent at $349 per month. 

Nineteen units would go toward residents earning less than 50% of AMI; 72 units are reserved for those earning less than 60% of AMI; and the last 19 units will be slotted for those earning less than 80% of AMI.

In total, 1,300 people paid the $25 application fee on Monday to try and secure a spot, according to WSOC TV. Seeing how much competition there was for so few apartments demoralized Reddick. 

“When I heard about this place, that it was based on income, I was so happy,” she told the Agenda. “But then to come out here and see this. It makes me want to cry, actually break down and cry.”

Officials say the city is short 34,000 units based on demand—nearly twice the number from a decade ago. 

Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis has made headlines in recent years, spurring action. 

In 2018, for example, voters approved a $50 million affordable housing bond in order to develop housing for low- to moderate-income families. A private sector fund also raised nearly $50 million that same year to contribute to affordable housing. The Charlotte City Council also approved several projects in 2019 that will create hundreds of low-cost units, some of which will be multifamily housing communities near the city’s light rail line.

The Housing Partnership has another project in the works with the Grier Heights Affordable Housing Project, a development off of Billingsley Road in southeast Charlotte. Local faith organizations, including Myers Park Presbyterian Church and Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, are also involved in funding Grier Heights. While it’s still unknown exactly how many units will be available there, the plan is to set aside about a quarter for extremely low-income individuals.

Charlotte may be struggling to address its housing crisis, but the city is not alone. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that across North Carolina there is a shortage of 196,231 rental homes that are affordable and available for extremely low-income renters.

That number could increase as well. North Carolina’s population is projected to grow by 2.3 million people over the next 20 years. If the crisis does worsen, Charlotte will most likely be hit particularly hard: More than 600,000 of those new North Carolinians will live in Charlotte.

Such a scenario could lead to more scenes like the one on Monday. As for Reddick and the 1,300 other applicants, they can expect to receive an answer in 30 days, according to WSOC-TV. 

The Housing Partnership is currently processing all received applications and will rent out the units on a first-come, first-qualified basis. Citing the “extraordinary number of applications received,” the Housing Partnership announced on Facebook that it was suspending taking additional applications until further notice.

Applicants who aren’t one of the lucky 129 but receive a preliminary approval will have the choice of a refund of their $25 application fee or be placed on a waitlist for the Mezzanine or any other Housing Partnership property for which they are qualified. Applicants who are turned down during the initial screening will automatically receive a refund of their application fee.