Part II: How—and what—is Charlotte doing, one year after NAACP Minority Report?

1
890
Diedra Laird/The Charlotte Observer
Leslie Williams, a school bus driver for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, lives in a Habitat house in Seversville in the Johnson C. Smith University area. Her tax value jumped a 188 percent increase from its 2011 value.

Editor’s note: One year after the NAACP Minority report was released, we asked community leaders how things have changed since then. This is part two of a two-part story looking at race relations in Charlotte. Read part one here.

Exactly a year ago, the NAACP released an in-depth Minority Report about the road blocks Charlotte’s African-American residents still face today. Since then, discussions over areas highlighted in that report — policing, jobs, affordable housing, education — have continued to make headlines.

Affordable housing

Affordable housing was a major component of the Minority Report because African-American communities are incredibly segregated, and the dwindling number of housing options only deepens that divide, said Marvin Owens, the senior director for economic programs for the NAACP.

In addition to racial segregation, poor housing is often connected with poor school performance and economic inequality, both of which were flagged in the Minority Report.

In total, the City of Charlotte hoped to raise $100 million for affordable housing. That number would fund 2,100 new mixed-income housing units, according to previous reporting. Previously, a 2016 report had indicated the city lacked 34,000 affordable housing units.

In November 2018, voters approved an affordable housing bond for $50 million, up from the $15 million the city has asked for in the past. The Foundation for the Carolinas is raising $50 million more in private, matching funds.

In January, private financial institutions Bank of America, Ally Financial and Barings also pledged more than $70 million for low-income housing developments.

It’s also important to note that The Charlotte Observer reported in October that many previous publicly funded housing projects aren’t even affordable for many low-income Charlotteans.

Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP, said she loves the idea of more affordable housing but wants to make sure the units are going to the people who need them the most. “What about people who are homeless right now?” she said. “We need to be intentional about addressing that issue because that is the most critical issue.”

Also in conversation is Charlotte’s recent property revaluation, the first one the city has had in eight years. New property values were released in January, and according to The Charlotte Observer, some homeowners saw their property values triple. Owens said the equity is good for everyone, but the taxes will likely hit many in the African-American community hard. “The property tax may go up, but their monthly income hasn’t changed,” Owens said. “Without something in place, those families will be priced out.”

Owens and Mack both said the city needs protections like caps on property value increases to protect people with low or fixed incomes.

Photo by Bobby Forrest
Wesley Heights resident Colette Forrest is a member of the social justice committee at Reeder Memorial Baptist Church, which is planning an event called “The Social Justice in Gentrification”.

[Related: Home revaluations: Fair market update or a fast track to gentrification?]

Gantt Center CEO David Taylor said he agrees more needs to be done, especially in terms of gentrification and what Mack calls the “resegregation of Charlotte.” He’s seen the problem expressed through the Brookhill exhibit. Although it has ignited concern for the people living in the neighborhood, there’s been no solution offered to the problem. “There’s still work to do,” Taylor said. “It hasn’t gone far enough because the individuals in that community are still in flux about what’s going to happen to them.”

Business

There have been multiple headlines related to Charlotte’s black business owners and entrepreneurs this year: In June, nonprofit pop-up dinner Soul Food Sessions announced its partnership with Coca-Cola Consolidated and its four-city dining tour.

Founded by six local black chefs, the dinners feature cuisine inspired by African-American and African dishes. They are meant to drive conversation about the limited opportunities chefs of color have to manage and own restaurants. The tour took Soul Food Sessions to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Charleston and, naturally, Charlotte. The organization partnered with local chefs in each market and committed a minimum of $10,000 in scholarships to culinary students across all four markets.

In the same month, the City of Charlotte hosted Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Summit with Black Business Owners of Charlotte. With 13,000 black-owned businesses in the Queen City, Mayor Vi Lyles said at the time that hosting the event showed the city’s support for improving economic mobility.

A few months later, in October, the BBOC also hosted the city’s second annual Charlotte Black Restaurant Week. The group’s founder, Cathay Dawkins, told WFAE at the time that the event was started to introduce Charlotteans to black culture and black restaurants. Dawkins said they noticed many black-owned restaurants were closing; he also said that between the first Charlotte Black Restaurant Week in 2017 and the second, five of the restaurants from the first year had closed.

Although all are important headlines for the African-American business community, Mack said this success speaks more to a trend of black business owners supporting each other and the black community than of the city and county supporting black business owners the way they could be. “I think that, once again, there has to be an intentional budget to do this work,” she said. “There has to be an intentional policy, an intentional conversation about how we can help people.”

What’s Next?

Mack, Owens and Taylor all said the city still has a lot of work to do in terms of the Minority Report. Moving forward, Mack said she’s focused on two main things: affordable housing and criminal justice. She wants to know how the city is going to handle the tax hike with the property revaluation. Owens said he’d like to see the city optimize its opportunity zones. Both Owens and Taylor believe lack of economic inclusion and upward mobility are the root of many of the city’s problems in terms of the Minority Report.

“When we really think about jobs, think about economic mobility and what have you, you know jobs are the key to that,” Taylor said. “That people can make a meaningful wage and be able to take care of themselves. To me, that becomes ground zero. I think there’s a lot of work we’ve got to do there.

“This affordable housing conversation is extremely important, but probably a more powerful conversation and a more resolute conversation is about jobs and employment at equitable wages so that people have the chance to live affordably.”

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here