Addressing displacement: Charlotte nonprofits work to preserve aging homes

Habitat for Humanity's Critical Home Repair program presents an alternative that keeps residents in their homes.

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Loretta McClure, 82, has lived in her north Charlotte home for more than 60 years; she and her late husband Alfred McClure Jr., raised their eight children there. But after decades of neglect, the ranch-style home had fallen into disrepair.

The floor was sinking, the roof was leaking, and termites had damaged the underlying structure, explained her daughter, Carol Green. 

Desperate for assistance, Green, 59, applied to some of the Charlotte-based programs that offer critical home repairs. Habitat for Humanity of the Charlotte Region responded. 

Better known for building new homes for low-income families, Habitat Charlotte has made badly needed repairs to 1,075 properties since 2008, the year it launched its critical home repair program.

The program offers repairs to roofing, flooring, heating and cooling, electrical and plumbing – all at no cost to qualified homeowners, says Charles Monroe, director of construction for the Habitat program. It also addresses accessibility needs that some homeowners may have.

The goal is to allow more low-income residents to age safely in their homes without fear of displacement, a growing concern for many as the Charlotte housing market becomes more expensive.

The shift toward more critical home repairs also reflects a growing realization: If Charlotte is to address its affordability issues, it must do more to preserve its current stock of aging homes, not just build new affordable units.

A growing need

Charles Monroe, director of construction for the Critical Home Repair program at Habitat for Humanity. Photo courtesy of Charles Monroe.

From 2014 to 2019, both rental rates and home prices have outpaced income growth in Charlotte, according to a dashboard published by the city in February 2021.

While the median gross rent in Charlotte increased by 34%, the median household income rose by only 24%.

That imbalance has increased the rate of displacement for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, especially seniors and low-income residents living in historically Black neighborhoods, where rising property values have attracted gentrification and corporate landlords.

To combat the growing threat of gentrification, Habitat Charlotte now requires homeowners under its critical repair program to sign a five-year deed restriction, a practice it began in 2013.

In exchange for the needed repairs, homeowners must commit to certain conditions. For example: If a home is sold within five years after repairs are made at no cost, it must be sold to a low- to moderate-income buyer approved by Habitat.

Monroe says the requirement has been a deterrent to some homeowners whose property values have increased significantly due to recent gentrification in their neighborhoods.

To qualify for Habitat’s repair program, Monroe says, a home’s value cannot exceed $300,000.

In addition to Habitat, several other Charlotte-area programs are working to address displacement through critical home repairs.

The city of Charlotte has a Safe Home Housing Rehabilitation Program, which provides loans to low-income homeowners for home repairs, and the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency finances emergency home repairs for qualified homeowners through its Urgent Repair Program.

As Charlotte’s population and housing stock age, Monroe said he anticipates a greater need for programs that help with critical home repairs.

“Scarily, I have learned that we’re just scratching the surface of the needs,” he said.

Keeping it in the family

Through the Habitat program, the McClures managed to salvage a property with more than 90 years of family history.

In the 1930s, Loretta McClure’s father-in-law, Alfred McClure Sr., bought the plot of land in north Charlotte at a time when neighborhood covenants and racist deed restrictions meant Black families were legally excluded from living in certain parts of the city.  

Three of the eight McClure children standing in front of their family home. 1966. Photo courtesy of Carol Green.

Then some 30 years after his father bought the land, Alfred McClure Jr., Loretta McClure’s husband, built a home there. Inside that three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, the couple raised eight children, including Carol Green. 

Eventually, the home fell into disrepair. Green said those problems worsened after her father suffered a massive stroke in 2018.

Under the Habitat program, repairs started in December 2022 and lasted until August 2023. The entire house had to be gutted and remodeled, mostly due to termites. The total costs came to about $200,000, Monroe said. 

Green said It’s unlikely her family could have managed the repairs on their own, but keeping the house was important to the entire McClure family.

“I was born and raised in this house,” she said.

More importantly, Green wanted her mother, Loretta McClure, who was recently diagnosed with dementia, to continue living in their family home, rather than having her moved to an unfamiliar apartment. 

A look inside the bedroom of Loretta McClure, who moved back into the home in September. October 2023. Photo: Destiniee Jaram / QCity Metro.

“At the end of the day, this is home for her,” Green said. 

Now that the home is restored, Green plans to give the house to her son, Desmond, 35. 

Adjusting to needs

Since starting its home repair program, Habitat Charlotte has adjusted its model to fit its client’s needs. 

Initially, the program required homeowners to be placed on repayment plans, which averaged $5 to $50 a month. 

Monroe described that model as unsustainable.

“It was just a bad model because you got people that are living off of Social Security, and there’s no disposable income,” he said.

In early 2013, repayment plans were revamped to a sliding scale based on income, according to Meghan Manges, a Habitat Charlotte support supervisor. Then in 2019, the organization stopped requiring repayments for families with incomes at or below 30% of the area’s median income, or AMI.

These past attempts to adjust repayment measures eased the financial burden for families, but they did not eradicate it. So, at the start of 2023, all repayment requirements were eliminated, including for homeowners on repayment plans. 

A street view of the McClure home, nestled in a north Charlotte neighborhood. October 2023. Photo: Destiniee Jaram / QCity Metro

According to Monroe, the average homeowner applying for critical home repairs is about 60 years old, and many have chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or cancer.

Most of the homes being repaired are about 60 years old, and the average cost of repairs totals about $60,000, Monroe said, adding that repair costs have nearly doubled since the Covid pandemic.

The program is funded by community development block grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. 

For fiscal year 2023, which ended June 30, the program helped 130 homeowners stay in their homes, Monroe said. The year before, the program made repairs to 136 homes.

Despite the program’s success, Monroe said the need in Charlotte remains great.

Comparing models

Beth Morrison, executive director of Rebuilding Together of Greater Charlotte. 2020. Photo courtesy of Beth Morrison.

Similar to the Habitat program, it offers critical home repairs at no cost to homeowners, and it requires homeowners to sign a five-year lien. 

To identify neighborhoods and homes in need of repair, the program uses community outreach, sending out postcards and attending community meetings. 

Morrison said the outreach is not only crucial for finding neighborhoods in need but also for building trust with community residents, who may be hesitant to work with the nonprofit.  

“It can really sound too good to be true for an organization that somebody might not have heard of before to say, ‘We will put $30,000 into your home in repairs and you don’t have to pay anything; it’s free,’” Morrison said. 

In addition to home repairs, the program also invests in community-wide projects, like pavilions and walking trails. 

Most recently, the program began work in its fourth Charlotte neighborhood, starting community conversations in the Hidden Valley community in March 2022.

So far, about 43 Hidden Valley homes have been approved for repairs, and work has been completed on 30, Morrison said. A second round of repairs will begin when work is completed on the first 43 homes.

Some of the community projects in Hidden Valley include building a seating area and painting a mural at Hidden Valley Elementary. 

The cost to repair a home in Hidden Valley has averaged between $20,000 and $30,000, Morrison said, noting the impact of inflation. 

Rebuilding Together of Greater Charlotte is funded through several government programs, including HUD, the city of Charlotte and corporate partners like Wells Fargo. 

Once finished in Hidden Valley, Morrison said, the nonprofit will expand its work into east Charlotte neighborhoods.

Who qualifies?

Habitat Charlotte’s current requirements include:

  • Household income must meet income requirements
  • The home must be a detached, single-family
  • Applicants must have owned the property for at least 5 years and be currently living in the home

Building a Healthy Neighborhood requirements include:

  • Household income at or below 80% of AMI, or just below $56,000 for a single individual
  • Home must need critical repairs
  • Home must be occupied by owner
  • Homeowners must be in good financial standing, such as being on a payment plan if behind on taxes or mortgage payments

 

This story is part of ‘I Can’t Afford to Live Here,’ a collaborative reporting project focused on solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte.

QCity Metro is part of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative (CJC), launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with funding from the Knight Foundation. The CJC strengthens the local news ecosystem and increases opportunities for engagement. It is supported by a combination of local and national grants and sponsorships. For more information, visit charlottejournalism.org.

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