- [Bea] She is dubbed the Queen City.
Charlotte, the largest in the Carolinas, setting records as businesses boom and people relocate to it.
But the boom that city leaders talk about is leaving many of those residents out as they search for affordable housing.
- I was wondering if I would be able to find affordable housing.
- [Bea] Meet Lisa Mashore, a retiree who for more than a year looked for a housing that she could afford.
But like many in Charlotte on a fixed income or with low-paying jobs, she could only watch as the rents went up.
- It's really expensive and I don't know if they're building any more affordable housing for people.
It looks like they're building like apartments for people whose seem like wealthy to me.
(bright music) - [Bea] The statistics are discouraging for those looking for affordable housing.
Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in America.
The United Nations projects it will be the fastest growing area in the United States through 2030.
According to apartment rental research, the median rent is a little over 1,300 a month for a one bedroom apartment, and 1,400 for a two bedroom.
That ranks the city number 42 in the nation, among the country's 100 largest cities.
More than 55,000 Charlotteans currently don't have an affordable place to live, and city planners say an additional 32,000 units of affordable housing is also needed to meet the current needs.
- Well, what it looks like, it looks like there's a big gap between those who need houses and the availability of housing, or the affordability of housing, I would say.
- [Bea] Meet Ron Leeper.
Many will recall his time as a city council member, then as a successful business owner, and now one who saw a need that maybe he could help fill.
- A lot of middle-income people, not just poor people, but a lot of middle-income people would have difficulty living in the city of Charlotte.
- [Bea] That prompted a new twist to Charlotte's philanthropic giving.
Leeper and longtime North Carolina power brokers, Erskine Bowles, the former president of the UNC system, and Nelson Schwab, co-founder of Carousel Capital, along with a group of private investors all decided to tackle the issue of affordable housing, dubbing their effort the Housing Impact Fund.
- [Ron] So we decided, let's go and get some of those existing unit.
You don't have to wait two or three years to build 'em, they're already there, and if we can buy 'em at a reasonable cost, we can renovate 'em and put a cap on 'em so that the rent won't rise over a certain level of time, over a 20 year period of time.
(bright music) - [Bea] The result, more than 58 million in investment dollars raised in less than six months to buy existing older apartment communities like Maple Way in East Charlotte.
Communities that outside investors were buying in order to turn a profit.
- Really, in the last 10 years, I mean these apartment communities have become extremely vulnerable because of Charlotte growing as a city for investment.
- When you bought the complex, there had to be major changes, right?
- There was, yeah.
This place had been neglected for years.
- [Bea] Mark Ethridge leads Ascent Housing, a part of Ascent Real Estate Capital.
Ascent has partnered with the Housing Impact Fund to acquire more units.
- The repercussions for families are really immense because when a private equity group buys an apartment community like this, they might fix it up a little, but they raise rents a lot.
- [Bea] As a result, in three years, the Housing Impact Fund has acquired the Lake Mist Apartments, the Pines on Wendover, Shamrock Gardens, and the Peppertree Apartments.
The process has been aided by taxpayer dollars, dollars that ultimately will be paid back to the city and county.
- On each one of these properties, they've committed a piece of that housing trust fund bond in the form of a low interest loan that goes into all of our private sector capital.
The community can feel good that that investment is leveraging lots of private sector dollars to do this work, and in return, it helps us keep the rents as low as possible.
We're housing people from an income perspective that, you know, make $13,000 a year and above.
And so we see a lot of working families, we see retirees, senior citizens on a fixed income.
We see individuals.
- [Bea] And in a city where rents can start in the thousands, by using only a percentage of their income, on average their rent is.
- Somewhere between 400 and $1,200 a month.
When you compare that to the market right now, there's no comparison.
I mean it's a major difference with keeping these units in that range, and we're keeping them in that range for 20 years.
- [Bea] And for retired resident Lisa knowing what her housing costs would be long term was key.
- Rent is getting higher and higher, it's not getting lower.
So when they said they'll keep the rent around the same place, I was like, that'll work for me.
(construction machines rumbling) - [Bea] Similar concepts are playing out in Minneapolis, Washington, and Austin, Texas.
Charlotte's first phase of this private/public effort has been so successful the group has started seeking more investors for Housing Impact Fund Phase 2.
- [Ron] Looking at the quick response that people in the private sector, some of our financial institutions and individuals who have invested in this fund pretty quickly, gives me a lot of hope.
- [Bea] For Leeper and the Housing Impact Fund members, it's one way to aid the city by investing their time, money, and efforts.
For city residents who are seeking permanent affordable shelter, it's an option that's been a long time coming.
And for the city, itself, it's one answer to the complex problem America now faces, affordable housing for all.
For "Carolina Impact" I'm Bea Thompson.