As the price of gas continues to go up, the Queen City’s affordable housing options seem to be moving in the opposite direction. While Charlotte continues to grow and receive an influx of folks primed to take up residence within newly built homes and the condo developments that are sprouting up all over, long term residents (and some new ones) are scrambling to find affordable housing. What is affordable housing?  By definition, affordable housing is residential space that doesn’t require a person or family to spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

According to charlottenc.gov, Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in America. The Housing and Neighborhood Service tab on the page goes on to state; the U.N. recently projected [Charlotte] will be the fastest growing area in the U.S. through 2030. [In the meantime] the cost of renting or buying a home has skyrocketed, and many can’t keep up. This equates to our city needing an additional 32,000 units of affordable housing to meet the current need, which means more than 55,000 Charlotteans don’t currently have an affordable place to live. In less than ten years [single family] home prices in Charlotte have risen from an average of 179K to the current average of 420K. As you might imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse. Rising costs in home ownership, apartment rentals, limited affordable housing options and the pandemic’s impact on employment closures and restructuring have devastated many.

Nationwide, the Queen City is not the only place where residents are facing increased housing insecurity. Additionally, and as far too many already know, homelessness and the threat of losing secure housing is not a new issue. 

Fortunately, communities rallying to find space and solutions isn’t either. In Charlotte, Caldwell Presbyterian Church is thoughtfully and diligently putting into practice a well-known biblical adage: Do to others whatever you would have them do to you (Mathew 7:12).

Caldwell Presbyterian Church is a vibrant inner-city church near uptown Charlotte. The church was founded 100 years ago in one of the earliest streetcar communities of the city. Reverend John Cleghorn is the pastor of the 350-member congregation that’s working collaboratively to assist in lightening the load of Charlotte’s homeless community. 

Cleghorn spoke with Qnotes, sharing info and insight on how the project began and where they are now in their journey of assisting community members in acquiring housing. 

He explained how, about 10 years ago, a partnership with The Salvation Army to provide housing led to Caldwell utilizing one of their unoccupied buildings as a 50 bed shelter for homeless women. According to Cleghorn, The Salvation Army managed it while the church provided the second-floor space of the Price building, a building located on the Caldwell Presbyterian Church’s campus.

Prior to this effort, the 12,000 square foot Price building was the church’s Sunday School building comprised primarily of classrooms. In years past, the church has used this space for other valiant community efforts, like the bilingual preschool Caldwell offered. As for the shelter, it was never intended to be a permanent residence and was eventually relocated to a more permanent building, the Salvation Army Center of Hope. “We were a band-aid, a bridge for overflow. We were only supposed to operate for six months but ended up operating for six years. 

When the women moved back to a more permanent place, we took a look at what was needed and how God was leading us. We spent a year thinking about and trying to figure out how to address the folks at the lowest end of the income ladder,” said Cleghorn. Those “at the bottom” are people and families who earn 30 percent to 60 percent of an area’s median income. For Charlotte residents that means less than approximately $32,000 for an individual and/or $60,000 for a household. 

Charlotte residents who earn $129,000 or more are in the city’s top 20 percent as earners – according to 2018 U.S. Census data. However, those aren’t quite the numbers that Reverend Cleghorn is concerned about. More often than not, you’ll find him focusing on numbers, such as 21 and six. We’ll explain why in just a moment. 

Stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, this effort has been in the works for a few years now and once again, strong partnership is at work in assisting area residents. Caldwell Presbyterian Church has solicited the assistance of DreamKey Partners (a 40-year old non-profit organization that specializes in building affordable housing) to assist in converting the church’s Price building into a 21 (there’s that number) single occupancy “move in ready” dwelling. They’re also in conversation with Roof Above, Carolina’s CARE Partnership and the non-profit organization Supportive Housing Communities. The intent, according to Cleghorn, is to have partnering organizations “bring us residents, new neighbors and provide case management.”  

As for why six is the other number on John Cleghorn’s mind? The estimated cost to make this all happen is expected to be six million dollars. So far, the church already has “commitments and hard promises” for 4.5 million of the six million required for the Permanent Supportive Housing project. About $800,000 was raised and contributed by congregants with the anticipation of one million from Myers Park United Methodist Church and the balance from state, city and county funding sources. “It’s a wide mix of public, private, religious and philanthropic partners coming together to make this happen.”

If things go as planned, doors will open and residents can look forward to moving in during late 2023 – with no end or move out date required. Once the final 1.5 million dollars is acquired to finalize things, “They will be able to stay as long as they like. Some people will come for short term and some for long term and that will be up to them. The funding that we are gathering calls this Permanent Supportive Housing. What that means is, these folks have issues and diagnoses wherein they need support and affordable housing.”

When it comes to philanthropy, altruism and plain old lending a helping hand, folks are motivated by different forces and factors. For Cleghorn, it’s all about faith. “Our faith compels us to reach out to the marginalized. We believe the gospel calls all believers to serve all those on the margins, those who are oppressed. Our experience with the homeless shelter tells us this is what we need to do with the assets we have to share.”  

Cleghorn concludes by sharing his favorite (and particularly relevant in this case) Biblical scripture on the matter: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builder labors in vain.” (Psalms 127:1) 

For Cleghorn, his congregants, partners and supporters, “It’s an expression of our trust that God will complete this project – we’re just doing the footwork.”

Qnotes 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 our reporting at charlottejournalism.org.

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