The 28205 zip code containing Charlotte, N.C.’s Plaza Midwood and NoDa neighborhoods has put the “queen” in “Queen City” for the last two decades, but now the area has new reason to celebrate; the U.S. Census finds it’s the gayest area not just in Charlotte, but in both North and South Carolina.
A report released by the Census Bureau this month finds Charlotte is host to around 1,300 same-sex households, and more than 350, or a fifth of them, reside in Plaza Midwood and NoDa.
Only Asheville, N.C.’s 28806 zip code comes anywhere close to having as many gay couples, followed by Durham, N.C.’s 27705 zip code in a close third.
West Asheville and east Charlotte have equally dense gay populations — for every 1,000 households, 10 are same-sex — but Charlotte’s 28205 zip still has the most gay couples overall.
That, residents will tell you, should come as no surprise. Plaza Midwood and NoDa have seen massive growth over the last decade, much of it coming from an artsy, eclectic crowd drawn to the area’s trendy boutiques, hip art galleries, and quirky local businesses.
But what the latest census numbers also reveal is an upward trend in same-sex couples moving into the neighborhood. If you think the area is gay now, it appears it’s only getting gayer.
Gay households on the rise
Between 2009 and 2014, the Bureau’s American Housing Survey estimated the number of gay couples in Plaza Midwood and NoDa grew from 250 to more than 350. The census doesn’t track single LGBT individuals, but it’s safe to assume their numbers are growing too.
William Archer and Jason Chamberlain were part of an early wave of gay couples moving into the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, and they’ve watched the neighborhood grow over the last decade. They moved here from Los Angeles in 2007 and knew they wanted to live close to center city because, admits Archer, “being away from tall buildings makes us nervous.”
Drawn by the historic bungalows, lush tree canopy and diverse locale, they settled on Plaza Midwood, and, eight years later, they’re still here — though just recently they sold their old home and moved into a bigger one down the street.
One of the best perks of their neighborhood? “Everybody is comfortable with who everybody is,” Archer said, “and that’s the best type of neighborhood to live in.”
Chamberlain, his partner, was less reserved. “Nobody gives an [expletive] around here, which is awesome.”
Asheville: The Carolinas’ ‘Lesbian Land’
While gay male couples are snapping up real estate in Plaza Midwood and NoDa proper, lesbian couples seem to opt for homes in the surrounding area where prices are more affordable. From 2011 to 2014, the estimated number of lesbian couples living in 28205 dropped from more than 125 to an estimated 85.
At the same time, the 28215 zip code, containing Hickory Grove and other neighborhoods just east of Plaza Midwood, saw impressive growth from lesbian couples. The census estimates 135 lesbian couples live there.
“Women tend to be more conservative with their money,” said Dawn Pugh, a realtor who moved to Charlotte last year with her wife and two children, “If you move to the outskirts you still have access to the same amenities as you did if you lived in Plaza Midwood proper, but it’s at less of a cost.”
And buying a home in a less popular area of east Charlotte is a good deal, said Charlotte realtor Beverly Newell, considering “you’re still about 10 minutes from uptown, and a lot of those neighborhoods are growing so fast, you can get twice as much house for half as much money.”
Plus, many older gay couples are childless, Newell points out, so living in a good school district or a kid-friendly neighborhood isn’t a big concern.
Charlotte, as a whole, has fewer lesbian couples than gay male couples. The Carolinas’ most lesbian-heavy zip code isn’t in Charlotte at all. It’s Asheville’s 28806 zip code, boasting more than 230 lesbian households.
The 28655 zip code in Morganton, N.C., also has a high population of lesbian couples, more than 140.
Higher demand, higher prices
Life is good for LGBT people in Plaza Midwood and NoDa, where queer-friendly businesses abound. There’s Zada Janes, the organic, locavore-minded (locavore: a person interested in eating locally-produced foods) cafe on Central Ave. Just around the corner, Snug Harbor draws a hip, queer audience for its live music and regular drag shows. And on the weekend, a crowd of rowdy, jersey-clad lesbians take over Steamer’s sports bar off Albemarle Rd. to watch the Panthers.
“Gays will generally gravitate to a creative area,” said longtime Plaza Midwood resident Lisa Wilker, herself living down the street from William Archer and Jason Chamberlain, “and that’s what Plaza Midwood has become.”
But the area’s artsy vibe and proximity to uptown are pulling in more than just LGBT people. New families, young professionals and historic home lovers are also flocking to 28205’s neighborhoods. That high demand has pushed prices higher.
This year the Urban Institute published a report ranking Plaza Midwood in the top 10 percent nationally in socioeconomic status. The Charlotte Observer reported average rent in the neighborhood at $965, and the average home runs for $315,000. Compare that with neighboring Belmont, where the average rent is $677 and an average home sells for $110,000.
“The area is absolutely being gentrified,” says realtor Dawn Pugh, “At one time, this area was full of artists and musicians, and you could buy a house for $200,000. Well now that same $200,000 dollar house is going be torn down, or completely renovated, and it’s gonna be a $600,000, $700,000, up to a $1 million house.”
Residents fear their neighborhood’s growing popularity could be a double-edged sword. As one resident, Tina Bambauer, wrote on the Plaza Midwood Facebook page in October: “Please stop moving here. Please stop running over my friends with your cars. Please stop it with your unwanted condos and apartments. Plaza Midwood used to be a 5. Now it’s just like every other basic place you can buy.”
Unwanted condos and apartments? Okay. But taking the latest census numbers into account, “basic” couldn’t seem further from the truth.