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Preventing Suburban Slums


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Gentrification - love it or hate it, it has transformed cities across the US, including Charlotte. As energy prices march ever upward, the problem is being amplified. The poor are being forced steadily into the cheaply built suburbs, leading to the now infamous Windy Ridge, among others. And to make matters many times worse, the suburbs could set a new bar in defining a ghetto. They are far from cheap, reliable transportation. Police patrols are spread across square miles instead of a few blocks. The vast infrastructure will decay as cities are unable to justify the cost of maintenance.

And yet, despite the potential dystopia, new developments (progress), urban planning (inspirational) and city policies (democratic?) are hell bent on reclaiming the lands and neighborhoods currently occupied by low income housing. This was made all too apparent as I read through the draft of an urban plan for the New Bern Station area. The low income rental housing along South Tryon and Sedgefield Apartments were all singled out as quaintly named "residential redevelopment" areas.

Even if there is some vaguely stipulated requirement to provide "20% affordable housing," any new development will almost certainly be far out of the price range of the people living in those areas now. They will be forced to move elsewhere, and the dominos will continue to fall until the poorest of the poor are in the aformentioned suburbs.

How do you make an argument that truly affordable rental housing is the highest and best use of an area like New Bern? How do you make this kind of housing profitable? Are there precedents of private developments in other cities that Charlotte could study, or public policies that could make a real difference? Within a quarter mile radius of New Bern Station one can find housing of a wide variety and cost - perhaps it is even the most mixed area in Charlotte. How can we save that mix, and prevent the exodus of the poor?

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It's called engagement and connectivity.....

The value of the property contiguous to the Lynx will continue to appreciate... and that's ok. The South Blvd corridor needs to appreciate and the gaps that have been left to deteriorate ( K-Mart et al) will be redeveloped and revitalized stemming the malaise that has affected too many sections of this artery.

Public policy of engaging and connecting those neighborhoods to the East and West from the Lynx will serve to strengthen their value and their character. Bike lanes, Greenways, wide sidewalks,, active and safe streetscapes, and frequent public transportation connections (buses) will stave off the exodus and engender a connected and diverse community.

The extent to which this occurs depends on the electorate. Do we place individuals in office who would rather build bridges instead of walls... but more importantly, do we step up and actively participate and financially support these candidates or just benignly allow others who are predisposed to play on the fears of those who would have us all live within gated walls...?

our choice.

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I agree that connectivity is critical, but it still doesn't necessarily address the issues of displacement and concentration of wealth and poverty.

This is from the pilot version of the LEED for Neighborhoods and Development program:

Neighborhood Pattern & Design

NPD Credit 4: Affordable Rental Housing

1 to 2 Points


To enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within a community.


Include a proportion of rental units priced for households earning below area median income such that:


At least 15% of total rental units are priced for households up to 50% of area median income and units are

maintained at affordable levels for a minimum of fifteen years (1 point);



At least 30% of total rental units are priced for households up to 80% of area median income and units are

maintained at affordable levels for a minimum of fifteen years (1 point);



At least 15% of total rental units are priced for households up to 50% of area median income and an

additional 15% of total rental units are priced for households at up to 80% of area median income and

units are maintained at affordable levels for a minimum of fifteen years (2 points).

To my mind, a requirement like this (and its accompanying credit 5 which address affordable for-sale housing) establishes a diversity of economic classes within a neighborhood, rather than having all wealthy neighborhoods along the Blue Line and the "affordable" neighborhoods a mile+ away by bike or bus.

However, the economic impact of such a requirement isn't clear to me. Does it drive up the cost on other units? Does it provide enough affordable rentals? My own personal response is that most developments are over built and weighed down with a lot of unnecessary crap. But since our brick facade fetish isn't going away any time soon, we have to contend with forcing ourselves to find other ways to build affordably.

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So do we ignore the current low income areas so that they may continue to exist as is? Do we try to spread out the low income population so that there are not concentrations of poverty as there are now? What is you view of the life cycle of a neighborhood? Is gentrification an unacceptable phenomenon to you?

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I think what we tend to forget is that this type of development is meant to drive out the bad company. In essence, when you filter out the bad company you also filter out the people who want to be part of the community and add to the community. This is a subject that I am 50-50 on because I hate the fact that members of a community who want to have strong bond cannot because other factors of the community destroy the facade of the community and therefore development drives them out. Seems like most developments do a total 180 degree change to an exsisting low economic community. This change is not only housing but employment based. If new developments incorparated businesses that can hire the good members of a changing community and pay them accordingly to allow them to stay in that community it will not only build strong bonds but build a character to the community. (Forgive my runon sentence).

Most new developments bring career and job opportunities that drive out community members who want to do better but cannot due to education level or expeirence. Being more well rounded in development choices in mix use buildings would help keep a diverse community in my opinion. However, I can understand why city commissioners, council member, etc would vote and approve such development that change a community 180 degrees.

All in all I believe we should not ignore low economic areas but see how developments can pull the good out of low economic areas and push out the riff raft.

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To answer the question of how do you make it affordable for the developer, the answer is through incentives and subsidies. The government gives huge tax breaks, grants, subsidies to the developers to build the Section 8/low income housing. With the section 8 housing, they're guaranteeing some form of payment and while it may not be profitable, it will probably allow them to break even. It was mentioned earlier that there are time limits on the developments. After x number of years, they can redevelop the units and sell them for whatever they want. So they break even or lose a little money for a few years then once their commitment is up, they reap the reward of increased property values and sell big.

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