Charlotte’s City Council voted Monday night to encourage more affordable housing near rapid transit stations, such as light rail, to give families with lower incomes easier access to public transportation, and education and job opportunities along with it. But, the council decided to exempt one of its signature projects, the Blue Line Extension.
When the Blue Line opened in 2007, development exploded in formerly industrial areas—most prominently South End. Trendy apartments, shops and restaurants quickly took hold. City leaders hope that something similar happens to the Northeast, when the extension opens in 2017. Assistant city manager Julie Burch says that means holding off on affordable housing for now.
“Rather than putting this guideline for affordable housing in place immediately for that corridor, we want to see how the market responds to the forthcoming transit line,” says Burch.
Burch says providing affordable housing and economic development aren’t mutually exclusive, but they are competing interests. City planning director Debra Campbell says the area along the extension already has plenty of affordable housing, and now it needs more of the market rate kind.
“That allows for a more balanced development pattern, a balance of both market rate and affordable units,” Campbell says. “And, you create more of a mixed-income environment, which is ultimately our goal.”
So, the council voted unanimously to exempt the Blue Line Extension from its new policy, which encourages 15 percent affordable housing within a half-mile from transit stations.
Maureen Gilewski, a member of both the Mixed-Income Housing Coalition and the city’s citizen advisory group for the policy, disagrees with the vote. Gilewski says, if the Northeast corridor sees similar growth as South End, a lot of people are going to be priced out by new development.
“The price of land has skyrocketed,” says Gilewski. “It really has excluded people of medium-to-lower incomes from being able to be housed along the lines.”
City officials say there are other affordable housing policies that still apply to the area, but they will not be tied to distance from rapid transit.