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Bridging the Gap: Collaborative Efforts to Expand Affordable Housing Access

Policy and Advocacy
Bridging the Gap: Collaborative Efforts to Expand Affordable Housing Access

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time working with the team at the Mecklenburg County Affordable Housing Coalition (HACC), it’s that the affordable housing crisis is a complex beast. Just when we think we’ve got a handle on one aspect of the problem, another curveball comes our way. But, you know what they say – where there’s a will, there’s a way. And let me tell you, the will is definitely there.

Shining a Light on the Unsheltered Homeless

Let’s start by taking a look at the unsheltered homeless population. As the Senior Management Analyst from Mecklenburg County Community Support Services explained, the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count is a crucial tool for understanding the state of homelessness in our community. But as they pointed out, it’s far from a complete picture.

You see, the PIT count relies on a single-night snapshot, which means it can easily miss the folks who are in the shadows, avoiding the count due to fear or mistrust. And let’s be real, trying to get an accurate count of people living on the streets, in vehicles, or in encampments is no easy feat. It’s like trying to herd cats, but with a whole lot more risk and uncertainty involved.

Despite these limitations, the PIT count remains an invaluable resource for tracking trends and informing policy decisions. And that’s where the team at the Hearts for the Invisible Charlotte Coalition Inc. comes in. They’ve been tapped to lead the charge on a more strategic and coordinated street outreach approach, with the goal of reaching those elusive unsheltered individuals and connecting them with the critical services and support they need.

Addressing the Affordable Housing Crisis

But the challenges we face extend far beyond just the unsheltered population. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has highlighted, the affordable housing crisis has been a persistent problem for years, primarily due to the widening gap between families’ incomes and their rent costs.

The numbers are staggering – in 2019, around 94 million households without rental assistance were paying more than 50% of their income on rent or living in severely inadequate housing. And that’s not even counting the nearly 600,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night or the millions more living doubled up or unnecessarily institutionalized.

It’s a vicious cycle that’s only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As rents have skyrocketed, with the median rent for newly leased units rising nearly 32% between December 2017 and September 2022, the burden on low-income families has become increasingly unbearable.

Collaborative Approaches to Affordable Housing

So, what’s the solution? Well, as with most complex challenges, it’s going to take a multi-faceted approach. The folks at HACC are spearheading a collaborative effort to tackle the affordable housing crisis from all angles.

First and foremost, they’re working to expand access to rental assistance through programs like the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. As the CBPP has highlighted, increasing funding for the HCV program would help an additional 100,000 to 140,000 families afford safe, stable homes. And the best part? Research shows that these expansions have little to no impact on housing demand or market rents, so they’re not contributing to inflation.

But rental assistance is just one piece of the puzzle. HACC is also working to preserve existing affordable housing stock and incentivize landlords to rent to low-income families, particularly those with housing vouchers. And they’re not stopping there – they’re also advocating for major capital investments in new affordable housing development, using tools like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program.

Empowering Individuals and Strengthening Communities

Of course, it’s not just about the numbers. HACC understands that addressing the affordable housing crisis is about more than just bricks and mortar. It’s about empowering individuals and strengthening communities.

That’s why they’re partnering with organizations like the Supportive Housing Association of Florida to explore innovative approaches to digital inclusion. Because let’s face it, in today’s world, access to the internet and digital tools is essential for everything from job searching to accessing social services. And for those struggling to make ends meet, that barrier can be yet another obstacle to overcome.

By investing in digital infrastructure and providing the training and support needed to navigate the digital landscape, HACC is helping to break down these barriers and give individuals and families the tools they need to thrive. It’s a holistic approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of housing, employment, and overall well-being.

Building a Brighter Future, Together

At the end of the day, the affordable housing crisis is a complex challenge that requires a collaborative, multifaceted solution. But the team at HACC isn’t daunted. They’re rolling up their sleeves, forging partnerships, and getting creative – because they know that when we work together, there’s no problem we can’t solve.

So, if you’re feeling discouraged by the state of affordable housing in our community, take heart. The folks at HACC are on the case, and they’re not going to stop until everyone in Mecklenburg County has access to a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home. Who knows, maybe they’ll even find a way to herd those pesky cats while they’re at it!

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