Housing crisis, homelessness at ‘inflection point’ in Mecklenburg

A couple walk up the street near a now-closed homeless encampment in Charlotte, on Feb. 18, 2021.
·2 min read

COVID-19 has “shone a light” and worsened existing housing instability and homelessness in Mecklenburg County, according to a new report.

The pandemic, which interrupted employment and caused thousands of local residents to fall behind on their rent and mortgage, exacerbated an already fragile housing landscape, according to the 2021 State of Housing and Homelessness Report.

The annual report was released Thursday by Mecklenburg County and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.

“Things were already trending not in the right direction before COVID-19,” said Courtney LaCaria, housing and homelessness research coordinator with Mecklenburg County.

“Housing instability and homelessness were already worsening and then COVID-19 happens.”

The pandemic was especially harmful for people of color, who were hit hardest by job losses, and already were cost-burdened (paying more than 30% for housing) at higher rates than white residents.

Among the report’s highlights:

  • An estimated 28,174 Mecklenburg households were behind on rent as of July 2021, owing an average of $3,589.

  • Evictions decreased during the pandemic and federal moratorium, but did not stop completely. Nearly 14,000 evictions were filed in fiscal year 2021, compared with 25,631 the year before.

  • In June there were 3,137 people experiencing homelessness, a 55% increase from 2,025 people in June 2020.

  • The number of beds in emergency shelters increased from 1,208 to 1,673, in part because of COVID-19 relief funding.

  • But the average time spent in a shelter is also increasing, an indicator that there aren’t enough housing options for people to move into.

  • Affordable housing units continue to disappear. The latest data available, shared in the report, shows the share of rentals in the market under $800 was 22% in 2019, down from 45% in 2011.

Eviction protection is gone — just as many in Charlotte need help for first time

Later this month local leaders are expected to publish a wide-ranging strategic plan to address homelessness across government, nonprofit, business and health care industries.

LaCaria said Thursday’s report shows the critical need for solutions at a time when the area’s biggest entities are coming together and there’s still federal pandemic aid for things like rent relief, shelter and housing vouchers.

“We are at this inflection point where we have a ton of federal assistance coming in (and) we have this renewed energy and concerted effort,” she said. “There is real opportunity to change that course.”

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