In recent years, and especially in response to COVID-19, the need to address housing instability and homelessness has gained wider attention and more directed energy. What has followed is an increased investment in, and focus on, expanding affordable housing solutions – of all types and sizes. Advancing affordable housing has come to be viewed as something that is good for the broader economy: access to available affordable housing serves as the basis in which households are able to grow and thrive; this, ultimately, is the foundation for a strong community.
However, addressing complex problems like housing instability and homelessness can appear, at first, impossible. Some communities choose to break the problem down for various reasons, focusing on an individual component such as chronic or veteran homelessness. Others choose to tackle what is visible, like unsheltered homelessness.
Parsing the problem only perpetuates the cycle that prevents communities from actually making real progress. Think about a ship approaching an iceberg. Typically, the bulk of the iceberg hides below the water. If the ship only attends to the part of the iceberg that it can see above the water, it can result in disaster. Similarly, communities risk failure if they do not consider the entirety of the problem: from housing instability to homelessness.
The 2025 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy (CMHHS) was launched in April 2021, marking the first time that the public and private sector have come together to address the full housing continuum, homelessness and upstream to households experiencing housing instability. By October 2021, CMHHS will produce a comprehensive, multi-year plan that considers solutions to address all aspects of the spectrum of housing needs, from prevention to shelter, to housing, and cross-sector supports.
To engender systems-focused changes requires commitment and alignment on all levels. It also requires patience and persistence, maintaining focus on what works and what is supported by research and data. At minimum, everyone can make a difference simply by listening and learning; by collectively building the community infrastructure that can propel both the message and the solutions forward. This week’s blog post is dedicated to the essential resources (local, regional. and national) to help the community understand both the challenges and solutions related to housing instability and homelessness.
RESOURCES THAT ADDRESS “THE BIG PICTURE”
What it is: The annual Charlotte-Mecklenburg State of Housing Instability & Homelessness Report (SoHIH) includes local, regional, and national data on the full housing continuum. It also features data from the Point-in-Time Count; housing inventory; rental gaps; and system performance metrics.
Why you should read it: It provides a single, “go-to” document for all housing and homelessness-related data and information pertaining to Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The 2020 report features new data sources; and addresses the impact of COVID-19. This link provides access to the full report, toolkit, factsheet, and other complementary materials.
What it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg: It’s entirely focused on the community.
AMERICA’S RENTAL HOUSING 2020 (Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University)
What it is: Released on 31 January, this annual report covers the rental market, including data on renter households; renter housing stock; individual markets; affordability; and challenges. For example, the report provides 10-year trends for both high- and low-cost rental units; and renter cost-burden rates. In addition to this document, the Joint Center for Housing Studies releases another annual report, “The State of the Nation’s Housing,” which provides additional detail on housing trends and includes data on homeownership.
Why you should read it: To get a high-level overview of the historical trends and current state of the rental housing market and how these trends may or may not track with what is occurring locally.
What it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg: One key takeaway from the 2020 report is that, with rising demand from higher-income households ($75,000 annually and higher) and new housing stock concentrated at the upper end of the market, there are not enough low- and moderate-cost rental units for households who earn the least. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the largest rental unit gap is concentrated among households with the lowest income.
OUT OF REACH: THE HIGH COST OF HOUSING 2020 (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
What it is: This annual report was released in July 2020. The report provides national, state, and local data on the cost of housing (and context for why it is “out of reach”) for many. The 2020 version also includes a new section on the impact of COVID-19 on low-wage workers.
Why you should read it: This report is especially helpful to illustrate the (growing) gap between what housing costs and what households can afford.
What it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg: Page 186 of the report covers the Charlotte-Mecklenburg MSA. A key takeaway from the 2020 report is that workers in our community must earn at least $20.44 per hour (or $42,520 annually) to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent ($1,063). A minimum wage worker ($7.25 per hour) would need to work 2.8 full-time jobs (or 112 hours per week) to afford that same apartment.
THE GAP: A SHORTAGE OF AFFORDABLE HOMES (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
What it is: “The Gap” could be considered a complement to “Out of Reach;” as both reports cover different aspects of the problem. Whereas “Out of Reach” focuses on the cost of housing relative to wages and income, “The Gap” provides annualized federal, state, and local data on the number of available and affordable rental units.
Why you should read it: In addition to providing local data, this report also provides helpful context to understand and compare the current trends.
What it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg: The current report was released in March 2021. A key takeaway for Charlotte-Mecklenburg is on page 29: there is a deficit of 41,923 affordable and available units in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg MSA for households earning at or below 30% of Area Median Income ($26,500 annually for a family of four). This means that there are only 38 affordable and available units per 100 households at this income level. Comparatively, there are 69 affordable and available units per 100 households at or below 50% AMI; and 106 affordable and available units per 100 households at or below 80% AMI.
THE COLOR OF LAW: THE FORGOTTEN HISTORY OF HOW OUR GOVERNMENT SEGREGATED AMERICA (Richard Rothstein)
What it is: This book, released in 2017, documents the history of housing policy and how these policies enacted at the local, state, and federal level have led to the patterns of discrimination and housing inequality we see today.
Why you should read it: The content in Rothstein’s book is critical for understanding the historical context behind the housing crisis as well as the need for policy change to effectively address it.
What it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg: Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have been shaped by redlining, urban renewal, and other “planning” and “zoning” efforts. The history of neighborhoods like Brooklyn is reflected in this book; and helps explain how Charlotte-Mecklenburg became the place it is today.
GOLDEN GATES: FIGHTING FOR HOUSING IN AMERICA (Conor Dougherty)
What it is: This book, which was released in 2020, describes the housing crisis using examples from San Francisco.
Why you should read it: Dougherty’s mix of technical details with real stories and characters provides a helpful way to understand (what can appear as complex) challenges to expand affordable housing. This is a good follow-up to the book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book released in 2016 documents the housing problem through the story of eight families and the struggles they faced to pay rent.
What it means to Charlotte-Mecklenburg: While the scope is limited to San Francisco, lessons from the book can apply to any community.
IN PURSUIT OF NEW APPROACHES TO SOLVE THE RENTAL AFFORDABILITY CRISIS IN US CITIES (Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University)
What it is: An article released on December 1, 2020.
Why you should read it: A new course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design assigned students the task of developing strategic blueprints for how key officials Austin, Louisville, Rochester, and Stockton might solve the rental affordability crisis in the next ten years. The students received support and assistance from city officials and staff already engaged in the work.
What it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg: The article highlights examples of new ways of thinking about the problem of rental affordability and summarizes five promising approaches to move the needle.
RESOURCES THAT ADDRESS SPECIFIC ASPECTS OF THE HOUSING CONTINUUM
Evaluate Upstream intended to develop a comprehensive and sustainable prevention assistance system for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Funded by a Continuum of Care (CoC) planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and launched by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services, Evaluate Upstream had the following goals: to document existing prevention resources across Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and determine whether and how they work together; to design an optimally functioning prevention network; and to develop an evaluation framework for an impactful homelessness prevention system in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Evaluate Upstream Blueprint provides Charlotte-Mecklenburg with a robust and comprehensive action plan that defines impact areas, action steps and defined outcomes for an effective, sustainable prevention assistance system in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The blueprint is organized into 5 main impact areas. These reflect solutions attending to the demand-side factors of households seeking housing assistance; supply-side factors affecting the number of housing units that are affordable and available in community; and recommendations to reform systems and structures that impact housing instability and homelessness.
This report provides the community with a comprehensive look at the overall prevention assistance system. Despite an influx of new funding, and the recognized potential for broad community impacts, prevention remains underutilized as a system tool. Charlotte-Mecklenburg can use this report to look at prevention assistance with a new lens, aligning existing resources and efforts to optimize the housing and homelessness system by targeting resources upstream, where they can be more effectively and efficiently used.
Understanding the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem
This link provides information on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem, which provides standardized definitions; identifies roles and responsibilities across the continuum; quantifies housing capacities; and outlines funding sources. Definitions are provided for all terms like “permanent, affordable housing” and a database makes available the current landscape of providers across the housing continuum, including bed capacity and populations served.
The State of Housing in Charlotte Report (October 2020)
This report is released by the UNC Charlotte Childress Klein Center for Real Estate. This report is the second report release that is part of a five-year research project. The report aims to provide a comprehensive, data-driven analysis of the current state of the housing markets in the Charlotte region and an overview of the recent trends. The report focuses on the eight-county Charlotte region: Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln and Union counties in North Carolina, and Lancaster and York counties in South Carolina.
Charlotte Opportunity Initiative: 2020 Report (November 2020)
This report is the outcome of work completed by Opportunity Insights, a research and policy institute founded by Professors Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Nathan Hendren in partnership with Leading on Opportunity and Foundation For The Carolinas, Gambrell Foundation, Brookings Institution and the Institute for Social Capital at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. Report components include data and analysis outline the factors that drive opportunity and inequality in Charlotte; research-based priority policy areas and policy pathways that can significantly improve economic mobility rates; areas where additional research is needed; and summary of conversations and efforts that can promote policy and systems change.
Home4Good Framework: A Public Health & Economic Recovery Response To Address Housing Instability & Homelessness In Charlotte-Mecklenburg
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care formed a taskforce to address the recommendations outlined in the Home4Good Framework. Links to the framework and information about it are included below:
- Home4Good Framework
- About the Framework, Core Values & Guiding Principles
- About COVID-19 web of funding sources, allocations and waivers
- Description of impact areas: prevention, coordinated entry and unsheltered homelessness
- Description of impact areas: sheltered homelessness and permanent housing
- Description of impact area: strengthening systems
Short-Term Responses related to COVID-19 that can be transformed to Long-Term Strategies
The COVID-19 pandemic has communities around the world grappling with their response, especially to highly vulnerable populations. These include people currently experiencing housing instability and homelessness, and those at the greatest risk of losing their housing. In addition to guidance from entities like the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD); the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH); and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), communities are sharing information with each other about how they are responding to the crisis. The information below highlights solutions from other communities, including interventions that can be used in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
The HFCM Process Evaluation final report examines two, interrelated processes: the multi-sector collaboration to end chronic homelessness and the implementation of an evidence-based practice to meet that goal. The information from this report can inform other community system-focused efforts to address housing instability and homelessness.
The report summarizes findings from the HFCM Outcomes Evaluation and Utilization Study, which examined how housing provided through the HFCM initiative impacted both individuals and service use.
This assessment provides the community with a comprehensive look at the overall emergency shelter system. The assessment illustrates the importance of connecting solutions for housing and homelessness. Readily available affordable housing would help address capacity issues in the shelters. However, there will always be a need for a crisis response system to serve individuals and families. The link provides access to the full report and a toolkit that translates the information into action steps.
This report provides an overview of the impact of evictions, the formal eviction process in Mecklenburg County and county level data. The report is part of a local series about housing instability and homelessness funded by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services and authored by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. The link includes access to a community toolkit for action.
This report maps evictions at the neighborhood level in Mecklenburg County, showing where evictions occur and exploring characteristics of neighborhoods with high and low rates of evictions. The report is part of a local series about housing instability and homelessness funded by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services and authored by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. The link includes access to a community toolkit for action.
Evictions Part 3: One-month Snapshot of Eviction Court Records marks the first time that local eviction data from court records have been analyzed and reported, focusing on how and why tenants are evicted and the cost of evictions for landlords and tenants. The report is part of a local series about housing instability and homelessness funded by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services and authored by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. The link includes access to a community toolkit for action.
Released in March 2017, this report summarizes the work from the task force that was formed after the 2013 Harvard University/UC Berkeley study revealing Charlotte last in economic mobility. The task force identified determinants and cross-cutting factors believed to be most likely to have the greatest influence on the opportunity trajectory of an individual. The report describes in detail their process, findings, and recommendations for the community.
Housing Charlotte: A Framework for Building and Expanding Access to Opportunity through Housing Investments by the City of Charlotte Department of Housing & Neighborhood Services prepared in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. (2018)
The Housing Charlotte framework builds off recent community initiatives, plans, and studies that propose solutions and recommend strengthening partnerships to address the growing need for affordable housing. (City of Charlotte).
This report highlights two challenges to affordable housing development: the financial feasibility of development and how to ensure long-term affordability of units. The report is part of a local series about housing instability and homelessness funded by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services and authored by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. The link includes access to a community toolkit for action.
ESSENTIAL HOUSING INSTABILITY & HOMELESSNESS DISTRIBUTION LISTS
In addition, below is a list of local, regional, and national groups and/or organizations that regularly distribute information on housing instability and homelessness with links to sites in order to sign up to receive more information.
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Dashboard (Weekly Briefing)
- National Low Income Housing Coalition (Regular updates, including weekly national briefing in response to COVID-19)
- North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness (Periodic updates relative to homelessness in North Carolina)
- North Carolina Housing Coalition (Weekly update; Tuesday morning phone call briefing; legislative and policy updates)
- Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University (Regular research briefings; reports; webinars and blog posts)
- Urban Institute (Weekly blog; research; and webinars)
- National Alliance to End Homelessness (Blog, report, webinars; policy briefings)
- United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (reports; webinars; briefings)
- Center on Budget Policy & Priorities (research and reports; data; analysis; policy implications)
Awareness is usually considered the first step in making a change. Equipping ourselves with information on housing instability and homelessness, backed by research and data, provides a path toward building awareness. The simple act of reading provides significant return with little investment.
Communities across the country are approaching this insidious iceberg. A key difference between the ones that will succeed and the ones that are destined to sink is the degree of awareness of all that is really lurking under the surface.
Courtney LaCaria coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.