Entries by Courtney LaCaria

What’s in a Good Plan? On Ending and Preventing Homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg

Over the last two weeks, the Building Bridges blog has focused on the recent shift in attention, energy, and investment in expanding affordable housing solutions, especially in response to COVID-19. These efforts include the 2025 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy (CMHHS), launched in April to address the full housing continuum – from homelessness to households experiencing housing instability. Last week’s blog post discussed the role of benchmarking local progress with that of peer communities as solutions are developed and/or outcomes are evaluated; and describes how Charlotte-Mecklenburg compares with five peer communities on key housing and homelessness metrics. The post just prior focused on the essential documents to read to fully understand, and therefore address, the entire “housing and homelessness iceberg.” Strategic housing plans are not new. In 2006, Charlotte-Mecklenburg launched “More than Shelter: a 10-year implementation plan to end and prevent homelessness.” The “ten-year plan” model was also adopted by other communities across the United States. Having not met the goal at the end of ten years, many communities have released revisions and/or new iterations, often with shorter time frames. Some communities have no advertised plan. In response to recent funding associated with COVID-19, however, even communities without plans have been forced to think about how best to appropriate this historic infusion of housing dollars from a system-level view. By October 1, 2021, the 2025 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy plans to develop and launch a new, multi-year, comprehensive plan to end and prevent homelessness in the community. This week’s blog post is focused on the elements that make a “good” housing strategic plan; highlights examples from other communities; and discusses what this could ultimately mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

On Progress: How Does Charlotte-Mecklenburg Compare?

Last week’s blog post highlighted the recent shift in attention, energy, and investment in expanding affordable housing solutions, especially in response to COVID-19. In addition, the blog spotlighted the 2025 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy (CMHHS), which represents the first time that the public and private sector have come together to address the full housing continuum – from homelessness to households experiencing housing instability. This kind of approach is critical to produce solutions that are both comprehensive and sustainable, resulting in real progress. Charlotte-Mecklenburg is not the only community facing challenges related to housing instability and homelessness. There are multiple communities working to address these challenges. Benchmarking local progress (or lack thereof) with that of other peer communities can be helpful as solutions are developed and/or outcomes are evaluated. This week’s blog post describes how Charlotte-Mecklenburg compares with five peer communities on key housing and homelessness metrics; and what this may ultimately mean for the community.

Long-Term Interventions Part 2: Funding Flexibility & Sustainability

Last week, the Building Bridges blog launched a new series, reflecting upon each of the six potential short-term interventions enacted in response to COVID-19 that could become long-term “business as usual” practices. During the past year, there has been an infusion of public and private housing-related assistance to address the impacts of COVID-19 and help keep people housed. Most recently, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) appropriates approximately $50B in housing-related assistance for lower-income households facing housing instability or currently experiencing homelessness; these funds will also indirectly help struggling landlords and property owners. While the COVID-19 relief packages can help address issues caused by the pandemic, they do not resolve the pre-existing conditions of housing instability and homelessness that predated it. Housing instability and homelessness is already trending in the wrong direction and are only likely to worsen as a result of COVID-19. Ending and preventing homelessness is arduous work even in a booming economic cycle, and without the added system stressor of a pandemic. How funding is allocated matters, whether new or pre-existing. How can communities leverage existing resources and ensure new funding goes as far as possible?  What new ways can funding be paired or deployed to address structural issues that predate the pandemic? What new funding mechanisms can transition into long-term change catalysts? How can new and existing public and private funding align to maximize impact and drive systemic solutions? This week’s blog post is dedicated to issues of flexibility and sustainability of funding to address housing instability and homelessness in response to COVID-19; and what this could ultimately mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

What’s New? A Look Back at “Not-so-short Term” COVID-19 Interventions Part 1: Eviction Prevention

In response to COVID-19, and throughout the pandemic year, everyone has had to make changes. Routines. Work. School. Childcare. Travel. Time. Businesses have been forced to adapt just to stay afloat. Governments have modified policies and sought to fill in gaps to keep people safe and healthy. Change has been truly the only constant. Importantly, some changes have been good. When looking back, what changes, whether at the individual or organizational level, are worth keeping: How we think about how we spend our time and resources? How we think about and use our space at home and work? How our routines have improved work-life balance? How business practices have empowered employees to be more productive through increased flexibility and enhanced support? How we have increased investment in the lowest income households, who need it most? How we have shifted to non-congregate shelter environments? How COVID has reframed the concept of housing as healthcare? One year ago, the Building Bridges blog launched a series on short-term housing and homelessness interventions enacted in response to COVID-19 that could become long-term “business as usual” practices. One year later, this new blog series will reflect on each of the six potential short-term-to-long-term interventions; provide an update with examples from other communities; and share what this could ultimately mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

The American Rescue Plan: What’s in it for Housing?

On March 11, 2021, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was signed into law. This legislation appropriates approximately $50B in housing-related assistance for lower-income households facing housing instability or currently experiencing homelessness. As rental and utility arrears continue to grow, the ARP offers much needed financial relief to struggling tenants and landlords. And, as communities observe increases in both calls for assistance and households falling into homelessness, the ARP provides ways to address the immediate needs of lower-income households. This support will also help the homeless and housing services system to stabilize. Finally, the funding priorities and eligible uses in the ARP provide insight into the types of strategies and solutions that will continue to be advanced; if maximized, these can outline pathways to long-term economic recovery. This week’s blog post provides a high-level overview of the housing-related assistance in the ARP, and what it can mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Closing the Gap: Why the Type of Solution Matters

For businesses, scalability matters. Scalability means that there is an ability to respond to growth in opportunity and increases in demand. Scalability enables businesses to be competitive, efficient, and meet the needs of customers, despite environmental changes. Scalability can be the difference between a business that remains small, or even fails; and which businesses take off, and sustain success. Scalability should not just be a metric reserved for private industry. Scalability directly applies to solving complex social problems, like housing instability and homelessness. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, there is a 23,060-unit gap for housing units which are affordable to extremely low-income households. That housing gap should be considered the floor, because it is growing. Such a gulf requires solutions that can effectively bridge this ever-changing problem. These solutions must be scalable. In response to COVID-19, communities have been willing to try new approaches to address housing instability and homelessness. Some of these approaches, such as constructing temporary “tiny houses” to address unsheltered homelessness, are stopgap measures which can help protect individual and public health. Once circumstances improve, interventions that keep households “temporarily housed” or housed in inadequate conditions should be removed and replaced with permanent housing solutions. Sometimes, approaches may have been intended as temporary, but could become permanent “business as usual” solutions, based on scalability. Rehabilitating vacant buildings, like hotels, with the potential for higher intensity use and transforming them to permanent housing is one scalable solution. Given the fact that there are limited resources (including real estate) to address a growing problem that both pre-dates the pandemic and has worsened because of it, it is essential that communities focus on and invest in housing solutions that are scalable. This week’s blog post examines four factors for communities to consider, with specific examples, when determining which scalable housing solutions to advance and/or prioritize, and what this could mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Prevention Assistance in Charlotte-Mecklenburg

Planning and investment efforts related to homelessness have, for well over a decade, primarily focused on the downstream components of the homeless services system.  These components seek to reduce homelessness by increasing access to and availability of, permanent housing (including subsidized and non-subsidized). This is true of communities across the United States, and of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, data in Charlotte-Mecklenburg indicated that almost 30,000 households face a formal eviction each year. More than 78,000 renter households experienced housing cost burden, which means they are spending more than 30% of their income on housing-related costs. These numbers have increased, and will likely worsen, as a result of the long-term economic fallout from the response to COVID-19. In reacting to the pandemic, communities have started to develop strategic housing and homelessness plans that integrate public health promotion with economic recovery. Homelessness prevention is the real key to both protecting the community and ensuring long-term housing stability. In fact, federal COVID-19 assistance has targeted prevention activities to ensure that households can stay safely in their homes during the pandemic. While prevention assistance may have been missing from prior community housing strategies and previous multi-year plans, it has now emerged as an incredibly critical component. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s focus on prevention assistance (as a system) started long before the COVID-19 pandemic. This focus has only sharpened since the pandemic began impacting households in our community. This week’s blog illustrates the genesis and evolution of a prevention assistance system in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and what this early work means for the community.