Charlotte Uses Data to Ensure Timely and Equitable Allocation of Affordable Housing Resources

Background

In early 2011, the central intent of the City of Charlotte’s Housing Locational Policy was to serve as a guiding framework for making the City’s investments in subsidized multi-family housing developments for households earning 60% or less of Area Median Income.  Informed by the results of a comprehensive analysis of Charlotte’s Neighborhood Statistical Areas, the HLP weaved city neighborhoods into an entanglement of permissible and non-permissible areas, effectively governing where subsidized multi-family housing could and could not be developed.  While the overarching goal of the HLP was to distribute the City’s affordable housing investments into more affluent communities, thereby limiting the concentration of poverty within distressed neighborhoods, in time, local housing conditions in Charlotte began to change along with the City’s priorities in locating affordable housing development. 

Dilemma

As a result of the 2011 HLP, many of Charlotte’s neighborhoods where naturally occurring affordable housing abounded had been designated as non-permissible areas for new subsidized housing development.  Within five years of enactment of the HLP, many of the residents of these historically affordable neighborhoods were at risk displacement, as more affluent residents moved in.  For some long-time lower income residents, finding an affordable and available home meant moving further away from the public transportation, job centers, and amenities upon which they depended.  This displacement, ironically, created a need for more affordable housing units within the very communities that the HLP had been designed to insulate from further concentration of subsidized housing development. 

Faced with rising rents and a city-wide shortage of over 30,000 affordable housing units, Charlotte’s City Council began to increasingly consider and approve waivers of the HLP for the production of subsidized units in non-permissible areas, to the chagrin of some opposing neighbors.  Such waivers to the HLP seemed to foment opposition rather than increase the speed and ease with which much needed affordable units could be developed.  That’s when the City Council went looking for a way to revise the 2011 HLP to ensure both a timely and equitable allocation of its limited pubic resources for the creation and preservation of affordable housing.

Proposed Solution

In searching for a solution, the City conducted a series of seven civic engagement sessions, including processes for online engagement, to solicit input from the community.  Based on community feedback and coupled with input from the City Council, it was determined that the HLP should be revised to achieve three goals. First, the revised HLP needed to provide clear guidance for investments that create and preserve affordable and workforce housing in areas near employment and commercial centers, in existing and proposed transit services, in the center city, and within gentrifying neighborhoods. Secondly, the revised HLP would need to support the City’s revitalization efforts.  And finally, the revised HLP [1]would need to promote diverse neighborhoods.

To achieve these aims, city staff proposed “site scoring”, as a solution.  To arrive at a measure that would reliably inform City Council decision making, the City’s housing operations manager, along with the data analytics team devised a method for using publicly available data to power an online tool that would score proposed development sites along a series of four criteria: proximity; income diversity; access to jobs, and neighborhood change. 

Scoring Criteria:

1. Proximity - to current and/or planned transit assets and amenities

2. Income Diversity - creating vibrant mixed-income communities

3. Access - to jobs within reasonable distance from proposed site

4. Neighborhood Change - level of displacement risk in historically lower income neighborhoods

Development sites were allocated a maximum of ten points in each scoring criteria.  For example, sites were scored based on their proximity to transit assets and amenities such as grocery stores, medical facilities, schools, banking center, and parks.  Full points were awarded to proposed sites within one-half mile of transit or other designated amenities.  Fractional point allocations were awarded to sites at distances of one mile or more from transit or amenities.  Site scores could then be assessed by City council members independently or in aggregate with higher scores indicating greater alignment with HLP policy.  Once the scoring methodology had been worked out and consistently returned useful information, the City approached longstanding partner ESRI to automate the City’s manual processes into an online GIS application.

City Council members showed strong support around the data-driven scoring tool proposed by City staff.  And while, use of the site scoring in the decision making is in its earliest days, City leaders and staff have already begun to consider how to measure the impact that the revised HLP and site scoring component will have in addressing the City’s shortage of affordable housing, the speed with which units can be built, and the frequency and strength of neighbor opposition to subsidized housing developments.  

Financing

The City of Charlotte provided a limited budget of $70k to fund the revisions to the HLP and development of its site scoring component.  The City was able to significantly reduce its actual expenditure by leveraging its internal staff resources to perform much of the early manual development work, prior to engaging ESRI.  City staff estimated that development time was cut in half by leveraging staff expertise to do some of the upfront programming work.