Wednesday's Observer editorial:
Anyone who truly wants to fix the problems of homelessness and affordable housing in Charlotte had to be feeling two conflicting emotions during an event on Tuesday: Hope and dread.
Hundreds of people gathered uptown to hear Mayor Anthony Foxx read a resolution declaring 2012 “The Year of Our Neighbors” and committing to making progress toward ending homelessness. They also watched a new documentary – “Souls Of Our Neighbors: Fears, Facts and Affordable Housing” – that highlighted six hard-working Charlotte families whose lives have been stabilized by affordable housing.
It was an uplifting event. The documentary was inspiring – and persuasive. It illustrated what housing experts have long known: Affordable housing (meaning, spending not more than 30 percent of one’s income on housing) is a basic building block for successful families. With roofs over their heads, lower-income people can focus on work and health. And, significantly, lower-income children can focus on their educations, and have a feeling of security that’s vital to their development into successful adults.
Thus, the hope: Hundreds of smart, hard-working, well-intentioned Charlotte residents, coming together to raise awareness about a quiet scourge of this community. An estimated 6,000 Charlotteans are homeless, and many hundreds are chronically homeless. The situation is only getting worse. The number of homeless families in Charlotte jumped 36 percent in 2010 and 21 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The numbers are expected to continue to rise this year.
Still, for many in attendance Tuesday, there was a strong sense of déjà vu. Nonprofit and government leaders have been talking about ending homelessness for years now. There have been summits and panels and documentaries and plans. Those have yielded some progress (notably, Moore Place will open this month with 85 beds for the chronically homeless), but nothing on the scale needed to solve the problem. Tuesday had the feeling of another pep rally for those who are already pepped.
Thus, the dread. This is not to minimize the importance of awareness, nor the difficulty of the problem, nor the passionate hours so many devote to it. But Charlotte has been talking about the issue for a long time. There’s considerable danger that Tuesday’s renewed public commitment to ending the homeless problem will, like similar instances, fizzle when it comes to translating it to actual homes.
Maybe this time will be different. Maybe 2012 really will be the Year of Our Neighbors. Maybe Mayor Foxx really will help lead more than proclamations this time. To be sure, Tuesday was intended to be only a kickoff to a year of progress, and it did a good job of that.
Now it’s time to act on it. It will require government agencies; might the City Council finally consider inclusionary zoning, in which developers mix affordable units with market-rate ones? And it will require help of others, including nonprofits, businesses and faith communities.
Organizers of the Souls Of Our Neighbors event use the acronym SOON. But soon isn’t good enough. How about now?
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Wednesday's Observer editorial: