Charlotte’s Economic Development through a Racial Equity Lens

by CFCR Staff
June 21, 2019

by Camara, our Summer 2019 intern

Earlier this week, I attended a nonprofit training workshop called “Program Evaluation from a Racial Equity Lens” hosted by United Way of Central Carolinas and the Brookings Institution. Equity is not synonymous with Equality. Equality assumes that if given the same opportunity and the same amount and quality of resources, everyone will benefit. Equity takes into account that those who are marginalized or faced historical setbacks will need more support than that provided from equality. Achieving racial equity requires considering the setbacks that the racially marginalized face because of their race and providing them the support and infrastructure needed to reacquire their ownership and decision-making power.

While I was already knowledgeable about most of what was discussed regarding the racial wealth, income, and opportunity gaps, I learned something new about techniques to measure a nonprofit’s goal of racial equity internally and within its community. The method requires establishing a goal to achieve some sort of racial equity (internally or externally) and three indicators to measure its performance toward achieving that goal. An example of a goal would be to increase the racial diversity in political leadership. Three indicators to measure that goal would be:

  1. increases in the number of Black, LatinX, and Native Americans in office;
  2. increases in the number of political advocacy centers in neighborhoods of color; and
  3. expanding of voting rights to historically disenfranchised groups (felons, undocumented immigrants, and etc.)

While thinking of a topic to discuss in this week’s blog post, I thought about Charlotte’s goal of urban renewal and economic development and whether or not it is advancing racial equity. The objective of urban renewal is to create a better environment for all of its residents; however, I’m wondering, which residents are being catered to?

Charlotte’s plans to improve the lives of its citizens through economic development has its pros and cons. The pros are big businesses entering the city and providing new jobs and opportunities for Charlotteans. On the other hand, working class residents and residents of color are losing their homes and aspects of their cultural identities, being pushed towards the outskirts of their home city, and missing out on the opportunities that come with development. Without access to the opportunities that gentrification brings to Charlotte, residents are not as capable of becoming socioeconomically mobile.

With gentrification on the rise in Charlotte, what can Charlotte do to instill racial equity and integrate the marginalized in its social and economic growth?

Affordable Housing

Charlotte has worked to create more affordable housing since the release of the Opportunity Insights Report (2014) that ranked Charlotte 50 out of 50 states by highest absolute mobility. Absolute mobility is an individual’s ability to exceed their parents’ family income at the same age. Nationally, Black and Brown families faced lower rates of absolute mobility compared to their White counterparts. In Charlotte, this disparity is vast. Since realizing that once it was shown on paper, the city has ‘progressively’ increased funding (Housing trust fund and Community Development Block Grant funds) to expand affordable housing units through grants provided to developers to build the units. Over 7,000 units were built with 3,000 of those units being set aside for families making less than 30% of the area’s median household income.

Nevertheless, Charlotte is still experiencing an affordable housing crisis. The city is growing explosively with its financial sector attracting people from all over the nation and world. Since 2000, Charlotte has grown by 100,000 new households.. Yet, the city still needs to make up the 34,000 housing units necessary to successfully create mixed-income neighborhoods that will allow low-income families to reap the benefits of living in high-opportunity areas. Newcomers arriving in Charlotte are deriving from homogenous banking backgrounds, driving the average household incomes up, and increasing property values by 77% on average. Overall, economic growth is outpacing both household income and the expansion of affordable housing units.

Earlier this year, Mayor Vi Lyles mentioned partnering with corporations such as Bank of America, Barings, and Ally Financial to provide lower interest rates to low-income residents so that they can rent or buy homes. The three corporations plan to donate $70 million (collectively) towards the idea. Still, will that resolve the racial inequities that exist due to lack of affordable housing? Considering how big banks found a way to take advantage of working class families by providing the predatory loans to that lead to the Great Recession, I would not put my money on this idea working without financially harming marginalized families in the long-run.

Although I am still working towards my degree in Public Policy, a few suggestions I have for the city is

  1. to put more funding into already-existing non-profit housing development programs (e.g., The Housing Partnership, Mercy Housing, etc.),
  2. increase units for families with incomes below 30% of the area’s median household income,
  3. mandate (not optional) developers to set aside more affordable housing units,
  4. increase affordable options throughout the city instead of in pockets to increase access to opportunity, and
  5. establish affordable rental options with access to public transportation.

Charlotte is hastily growing when it has yet resolved current racial disparities within all sectors. Therefore, disparities (specifically racial disparities) will persist with great intensity. Altering and implementing policies that will mitigate the effects of past policies is necessary. Expanding affordable housing strategies will equitably provide marginalized, especially racially marginalized, families access to more opportunities (e.g., higher quality education and public services), the ability to accumulate wealth through homeownership, and social/economic diversity.

CFCR Staff


OUR MISSION – Council for Children’s Rights improves the lives and futures of children in Mecklenburg County through legal representation, individual advocacy, and by addressing community-wide issues through research and policy work.