Journalists from four Charlotte news outlets — The Charlotte Observer, Qnotes, WCNC and WFAE — joined forces to tell these stories. We set out to answer whether what works in other cities could be part of Charlotte’s efforts to alleviate the affordable housing crisis — a Solutions City, of sorts.
Picture an older home in need of some serious fixing up. Perhaps the floor is sinking, the drywall sagging, and the roof is in need of some work.
There could be two options for that home. One — tear it down and build something new. The other might be to invest in fixing it up.
A group in Philadelphia is training residents to take the latter option, in the name of affordable housing. In doing so, it has helped preserve nearly 500 affordable units as a result.
The program — called Jumpstart Philly — is based on a model that could be replicated in Charlotte. Local, community-minded residents are trained in how to buy, renovate and sell old homes, and then supplied with loans and expert guidance for their first few projects.
Participants are encouraged to sell the fixed-up homes at affordable prices, and they keep whatever profit they make.
Participants have said the program has been empowering, among them, 38-year-old Lafayette Lee-Womack.
He never thought of himself as a home renovator, but is now nearly finished with his first project: a small, two-story row house in Philadelphia’s West Kensington neighborhood.
He beamed with pride as he walked through the row house on a recent Tuesday, sidestepping wooden beams and a metal ladder. He had just finished some roof repairs and a new HVAC and water heater installation, and he still had a few more items left on his renovation to-do list.
Before, the home had sat vacant and in disrepair. Lee-Womack purchased it for $75,000 from a friend’s mother, who owned the home since the 1980s. “It’s just been sitting here for years,” Womack said.
While he’s never taken on a renovation project at this scale before, he’s learned all the basics from his training in the Jumpstart Philly program.
‘A lot of people don’t have that rich uncle’
The program was created in 2015 by commercial developer Ken Weinstein
“There’s a lot of people out there who don’t have that rich uncle who was in real estate development for years and can teach them how to do it. We are that uncle,” Weinstein said.
Community-minded residents are invited to enroll in the four-week, 16-hour training program, where they learn everything from property sourcing to zoning and construction.
When students finish the course, they’re paired with an experienced mentor who helps guide them through their first few projects. Weinstein said more than 2,000 people have taken the course.
“We get people across the board,” he said. “We get retirees, we get folks in college and we get lots of applications from contractors or realtors or just good neighborhood folk who want to remove blight from their community.”
Some program graduates win homes for $10
Graduates can also apply for loans from the program for their first few projects, and in recent years, a small group of lucky graduates have won a new program lottery that awards them a vacant home from the Philadelphia Housing Authority for the low price of $10.
Mamadou Ndiaye was one of 10 lottery winners in 2021.
“I’m what you would consider like more of a newbie in real estate investing,” he said.
The 28-year-old data analyst spent three months installing new floors, windows and appliances in the row house he won. Once finished, he was required to sell or rent it to someone making no more than 80% of the area’s median income.
“I wanted somebody who … was really interested in owning a home and homeownership, but was unable to just due to market conditions,” he said.
He found 32-year-old Jacki Saez, a lifelong Philadelphian who remembered without hesitation the date she closed on the two-story home in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood.
“February 18th, 2022,” she remembered with a laugh.
Saez grew up in the neighborhood, and now could afford to move back and have her own space.
“I love having a little backyard — like that was definitely top of the list, when I was looking for a home,” she said. Saez paid $175,000, and she’s restricted from selling to anyone other than another low-income buyer for 20 years, but she isn’t planning to sell anyway.
“My hope is that as my son gets older, and he starts to work, and chooses to go to college, this could be a home for him, or I hope to even support a family member, if needed,” she said.
Program graduates are overwhelmingly diverse
Jordan Parisse-Ferrarini was one of the first graduates in 2016, and said the program was changing the look of the city and the look of real estate developers.
“I’m seeing, for one of the first times, more diversity in the real estate and investing space — like literally more Black and brown investors within the space since this program started,” he said.
While the Jumpstart Philly program is open to anyone, about 85% of graduates are women or people of color — populations that historically have been underrepresented in real estate development.
To Parisse-Ferrarini, that makes a big difference. Development and gentrification are bound to happen in any city, he said, “but when you’re able to empower the members of the community that are there and that should be on the forefront and the decision-making and in the direction of those changes, programs like this are a game changer.”
Several other cities have started similar programs using the Jumpstart Philly model — including Indianapolis, Oklahoma City and Wilmington.
At least two organizations in Charlotte have already begun exploring a similar approach. LISC Charlotte and West Side Land Trust have both funded renovations of a handful of homes that were sold at affordable prices to low-income residents.
Scaling those programs up to the level seen in Philadelphia could help increase Charlotte’s stock of affordable housing, and get more residents involved in creating and preserving affordable homes in Charlotte. They would need only the will and the investment.
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.