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A Charlotte church takes on affordable housing

Elizabeth Heights received a Housing North Carolina Award last year for excellence in affordable housing.

 

A year after downtown Charlotte exploded in violent protests, discussions about inequality have led to a citywide conversation on affordable housing.

Growing cities and towns might do well to follow the example of CrossRoads Corp., which has been working for nine years on the problem in one of Charlotte’s poorest neighborhoods. Grier Heights is within walking distance of wealthy neighbors but from 2011 to 2013, the community of 3,000 had a violent-crime rate that was five times the city average. Three of four families relied on food stamps, and the school dropout rate was twice as high as the city average.

Myers Park Presbyterian Church, the denomination’s largest congregation in the state, is about 2 miles from the heart of Grier Heights. In 2008, the church pledged $1.5 million to assist in its revitalization and launched a capital campaign to raise more. The campaign was so successful, raising $30 million, the church formed CrossRoads, a separate nonprofit.

“We looked at a map of all the wealth surrounding Grier Heights,” says program director Glenn Boone. “And instead of an oasis in the middle of a desert, it was a desert in the middle of an oasis.” In 2015, the average home sales price in Grier Heights was $74,000, well below today’s Mecklenburg County average of $273,000. Home prices in the nearby Eastover neighborhood can top $2 million.

CrossRoads began by tearing down 23 dilapidated duplexes in Grier Heights and replacing them with mixed-income housing beginning in 2013. The subdivision of 35 homes is being built in phases and sold to people making about 80% of the area median income. Next, CrossRoads turned a former school into a neighborhood center. In addition to affordable housing and home-repair grants, CrossRoads offers after-school programs for children, youth mentorships, and career-building and continuing-education opportunities.

Executive Director Don Gately says CrossRoads is based on a “doing with, not for” mentality, avoiding a perception that such agencies should issue orders when they move into troubled neighborhoods. “We offer many programs that work to equip residents with the specific skills they need to feel empowered.”

Myers Park gave the seed money and continues to supply a steady stream of volunteers, but donations come from businesses such as Bank of America and PNC Bank, agencies including United Way and individual donors. “CrossRoads stands out because we are trying to establish a continuum of services, working with children and adults in different ways at different places in life,” says Kathleen O’Bannon, CrossRoads’ development director. Boone says their efforts are worthwhile. “Working with Grier Heights has shown me that we are more alike than we are different.”

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