MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — The gap in affordable housing continues to grow in Mecklenburg County, especially for households earning the lowest incomes.
“Rents are going up far faster than wages are," Karen Pelletier, the division director for Housing Innovation & Stabilization Services with Mecklenburg County Community Support Services, said.
Gap in affordable housing
Pelletier said the cost of rent is one of the main driving factors to homelessness. She described some of the cases she is seeing.
"They were a great tenant for years, suddenly their lease went up $300, $400 a month -- and that is a huge increase for anybody, let alone families who are struggling to make ends meet," Pelletier said.
According to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the Charlotte MSA is facing a shortage of 45,130 units for extremely low-income renters; the situation continues to trend in the wrong direction, as the gap is 3,207 units larger than this time last year.
“We have much work to do, and it will take all of us," Pelletier said.
Pelletier said there are currently incentives for developers to create housing for extremely low income renters. They're also working to tackle source of income discrimination.
Still, for people like Ruby, a woman who lives on the streets of Uptown Charlotte, she says she's seeing the impacts of full shelters and high rent prices.
“There’s more homeless people coming everywhere," Ruby said.
Homelessness in Mecklenburg County
Meanwhile, homelessness continues to increase in Mecklenburg County.
The most recent data shows there are 2,667 people experiencing homelessness, the number expected to get worse.
Since last month, the number of people experiencing homelessness rose by 239. Despite the significant decrease last month, which was primarily due to efforts to clean up data, overall homelessness has been increasing month over month rather than decreasing.
“Our shelters are operating at capacity," Pelletier said.
As rent prices surge, the cost of living increases, and shelters struggle to keep up, more people are falling into homelessness.
"Rent prices is a huge issue on how people end up in our homeless shelter," Pelletier said.
The number of calls to NC 211, a housing and shelter assistance hotline, was higher than this time last year. In Mecklenburg County alone, there have been 3,100 more calls related to housing requests than last year.
"The length of time people are spending in homelessness is growing we know were up to about four or five months and much of that is because the lack of affordable housing," Pelletier said.
To tackle that problem, in April 2021, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy (CMHHS) is the first comprehensive effort to address housing instability and homelessness in our community involving the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
“How are we helping to increase wages, how were expanding shelter capacity, outreach, everything across that from prevention to affordable housing,” Pelletier said. "There so much work that’s going on now we know that over 200 people are moving from homelessness to permanent housing every month, but if you you drive from South Charlotte to Uptown everyday might not feel that with the number of people we have living outside."
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Monday night, Charlotte City Council moved through several items, including a unanimous approval for $8 million in funding to renovate the Peppertree Apartments. That money is part of a larger development cost that should preserve about 300 units for affordable housing.
While everyone agreed, some council members cautioned that more needs to be done to increase upward mobility around the city.
But for Ruby, homeless prevention is too late. She says she's tried to find a job, but she's disabled and has health issues.
“I put an application in just to wipe tables, they said no 'cause of my legs,” Ruby said.
She's hopeful more people give a helping hand, to those that can't help themselves.
“A lot of homeless people out here are dying; they need someone to reach out and touch somebody," Ruby said.
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WCNC Charlotte is part of seven major media companies and other local institutions producing I Can’t Afford to Live Here, a collaborative reporting project focused on solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte. It is a project of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, which is supported by the Local Media Project, an initiative launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with support from the Knight Foundation to strengthen and reinvigorate local media ecosystems. See all of our reporting at charlottejournalism.org.