Homes near up­town face big rise in value

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ELY POR­TILLO AND DANIELLE CHEMTOB ely­por­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com dchem­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

As a sin­gle mother, Les­lie Wil­liams thought she’d never have a shot at own­ing a home.

But in 2000, when Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity built her a house just west of up­town in Sev­ers- ville, all of the hours she had worked at mul­ti­ple jobs had fi­nally paid off. Ev­ery­thing was per­fect — from the three iden­ti­cal-sized bed­rooms to the spa­cious kitchen.

“The Amer­i­can Dream is to own your own home, and I thought I needed a hus­band to do that,” she said. “But I did it my­self.”

Al­most 20 years later, Wil­liams, a school bus driver for Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Schools, is close to pay­ing off that house. Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity is cov­er­ing her prop­erty taxes un­til she fin­ishes mak­ing mort­gage pay­ments. But once she starts foot­ing the bill, she has rea­son

to worry — the house is now val­ued at $237,500, a 188 per­cent in­crease from its 2011 value.

“I was so happy to pay my house off, I thought I was gonna have a breather,” she said. “I see that’s not gonna hap­pen.”

Like Wil­liams, prop­erty own­ers across Meck­len­burg County saw sharply higher val­ues when the county sent out reval­u­a­tion no­tices last month. But while most prop­erty val­ues went up, the in­creases weren’t spread equally.

An Ob­server anal­y­sis of new prop­erty val­ues shows that the most dra­matic jumps in res­i­den­tial prop­erty val­ues were con­cen­trated in close-in neigh­bor­hoods near up­town. That in­cludes his­tor­i­cally black neigh­bor­hoods such as Bid­dleville, Sev­ersville, Druid Hills, Op­ti­mist Park, Villa Heights, Bel­mont, Cherry and Grier Heights, which have seen in­fluxes of new res­i­dents and in­vestors buy­ing up prop­er­ties to rent, de­mol­ish and re­build or re­model and flip.

Many of these neigh­bor­hoods saw res­i­den­tial prop­erty val­ues shoot up by an av­er­age of more than 120 per­cent, with in­creases of 200 or even 300 per­cent in value not un­com­mon.

That doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally mean tax bills will in­crease that much, since tax rates are set sep­a­rately from prop­erty val­ues, and lo­cal of­fi­cials are likely to lower the rates to off­set some of the in­creased home val­ues. But the new val­ues are still stir­ring fears about dis­place­ment in fast-chang­ing neigh­bor­hoods. Tax breaks and de­fer­rals for low-in­come, el­derly and dis­abled res­i­dents are also avail­able for peo­ple who meet cer­tain thresh­olds, but not all home­own­ers are el­i­gi­ble.

‘WE KNEWWHAT WAS COM­ING’

James Atkin­son’s light blue Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity-built house sits at the end of a cul-de-sac of sin­gle-fam­ily homes in Op­ti­mist Park, a neigh­bor­hood that stretches north along the Blue Line ex­ten­sion from up­town to NoDa. One day, he looked out his win­dow at the newly opened Park­wood light rail stop, and was con­fronted with a new re­al­ity.

“A hair on my arm came up,” he said, “And I knew that things would change. And things rapidly did change.”

Now, hun­dreds of apart­ments are be­ing built next to the sta­tion, just across the street from Atkin­son’s home. The sense of iden­tity that Atkin­son, the pres­i­dent of the Op­ti­mist Park Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, had been push­ing for for years was fi­nally be­ing rec­og­nized, but it had an un­in­tended con­se­quence: gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

Atkin­son’s house, which his mother moved into in the 1980s, is now val­ued at over $200,000, a 158 per­cent in­crease from 2011.

This is the county’s first reval­u­a­tion since 2011, and the big in­creases in as­sessed val­ues re­flect the red-hot real es­tate mar­ket. The me­dian in­crease in value for res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties was 43 per­cent, Meck­len­burg of­fi­cials said. And when com­mis­sion­ers and City Coun­cil set new tax rates in the sum­mer, prop­er­ties with in­creases above the me­dian rate of 43 per­cent are more likely to see their tax bills jump.

“I am con­cerned about the ar­eas that have seen the high­est lev­els of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and the po­ten­tial im­pact to res­i­dents in those ar­eas,” said com­mis­sioner Mark Jer­rell.

Com­mu­nity ac­tivist Co­lette Forrest paid $100,000 for her twobed­room, two-bath home in Wes­ley Heights, just west of up­town, nearly 20 years ago. It ap­pre­ci­ated grad­u­ally, and was val­ued at $133,000 in 2011. Now, the county says that same house is worth over $320,000, an in­crease of al­most 250 per­cent.

The sin­gle mother is wor­ried about how high her new prop­erty tax bill will be in July. But she’s not sur­prised. In what seemed like an overnight trans­for­ma­tion, a va­cant patch of grass down the block turned into con­dos sell­ing for $425,000.

“My el­derly neigh­bors be­gan to worry when they saw whites mov­ing in at such a quick pace,” she said. “When we saw all of that, we knew what was com­ing.”

Close to up­town, these neigh­bor­hoods have drawn waves of new res­i­dents over the past five years. In many cases the in­flux has been marked by new busi­nesses like brew­eries, large new apart­ment build­ings where stu­dios start at $1,000 or more, and small mill houses torn down to make way for large, Crafts­man-style homes that fill a lot al­most to the prop­erty lines.

“They make the lit­tle bun­ga­lows next to them look like toy houses,” said Dar­ryl Gas­ton, pas­tor of Small­wood Pres­by­te­rian Church and pres­i­dent of the Druid Hills Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­a­tion. He said ris­ing val­ues can be a dou­ble-edged sword in his neigh­bor­hood north of up­town, be­tween Statesville Av­enue and Gra­ham Street.

“I want my prop­erty value to in­crease be­cause it’s my big­gest in­vest­ment,” said Gas­ton. He has rea­son to cel­e­brate, in that re­gard: His house value jumped about 160 per­cent from 2011, from $ 70,900 to $184,500. But he’s quick to add: “I know, too, my fam­ily strug­gled with prop­erty tax and keep­ing it cur­rent. I’ve strug­gled in do­ing so too.”

A life­long res­i­dent in Druid Hills, Gas­ton wor­ries about the im­pact of higher tax val­ues on long­time res­i­dents. Even if the ul­ti­mate tax bills won’t come out for months, he said peo­ple are talk­ing.

“I think there’s a mea­sure of dis­tress among, es­pe­cially, my se­niors,” he said. “They’re proud of the homes they own, but they’re not so in­ter­ested in pay­ing more in their prop­erty taxes. It can be a lit­tle fright­en­ing.”

In neigh­bor­hoods near up­town, prop­er­ties on each block tell the same story in more gran­u­lar de­tail:

Three houses on Bel

mont Av­enue near Sei­gle Av­enue that were val­ued at $ 79,000, $86,200 and $82,100 in 2011 are now as­sessed at $256,900, $247,700 and $248,000. That’s an av­er­age in­crease of more than 300 per­cent.

●● row of houses in Bid­dleville fac­ing Five Points Park went from $ 73,400, $ 74,100 and $ 76,900 in 2011 to $170,700, $271,200 and $190,000 this year, mean­ing they more than dou­bled or tripled.

In the Cherry neigh

bor­hood, $800,000 new homes have re­placed smaller, older bun­ga­lows and du­plexes. But homes that haven’t been sub­stan­tially ren­o­vated have also seen their val­ues soar. For ex­am­ple, three Cherry houses that date to the 1900s and 1920s and haven’t been ren­o­vated or ex­panded all more than tripled in value, go­ing from $98,700 to $307,300; $88,200 to $312,500; and from $107,400 to $367,500.

Wil­liams wel­comes many of the changes that have come to her west Char­lotte neigh­bor­hood. She re­mem­bers when she called the po­lice ev­ery week­end to re­port pros­ti­tu­tion.

“Over time, this neigh­bor­hood has got­ten bet­ter,

I WAS SO HAPPY TO PAY MY HOUSE OFF, I THOUGHT I WAS GONNA HAVE A BREATHER. I SEE THAT’S NOT GONNA HAP­PEN. Les­lie Wil­liams, Sev­ersville res­i­dent

and I’m glad for that,” she said. “I just hate the fact that it’s got­ten bet­ter but now I can’t af­ford to live in it.”

One rea­son it could be harder to find a new place for peo­ple who move: The av­er­age rent in Char­lotte has risen by more than a third over the past five years, to $1,175 a month. Land­lords who see higher tax bills could pass along the cost to renters.

“We al­ready have a cri­sis,” said Jer­rell, the com­mis­sioner. “If land­lords have to push the ad­di­tional costs onto renters, how does that help?”

Com­mis­sioner Pat Cotham said dur­ing the 2011 reval­u­a­tion, when the county had to re­fund $100 mil­lion to res­i­dents who ar­gued their prop­er­ties had been over­val­ued, she spoke with peo­ple who lost their homes as a re­sult of their tax bills. She’s push­ing the county to lower the prop­erty tax rate to a level that brings in the same amount of money as be­fore reval­u­a­tion. The so-called “rev­enue neu­tral” rate would avoid hik­ing taxes on ev­ery­one, but the bills for in­di­vid­ual prop­er­ties could still go up or down.

“I re­mem­ber hear­ing those tears on the phone,” she said. “These are the hard de­ci­sions com­mis­sion­ers have to make.”

Jer­rell said the county needs to find ways to limit the im­pact of higher val­ues on long­time res­i­dents, such as ex­pand­ing the prop­erty tax de­fer­ral and re­duc­tion pro­grams for low-in­come el­derly or dis­abled res­i­dents.

“We will not fund our pri­or­i­ties on the backs of the poor and our most vul­ner­a­ble,” said Jer­rell.

IN­VESTORS EYING PROP­ER­TIES

An­other fac­tor in dis­place­ment: In­vestors are cir­cling, offering to snap up prop­er­ties for cash. Sev­eral peo­ple in­ter­viewed in dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hoods — Druid Hills, Gra­ham Heights, Sev­ersville, Wes­ley Heights — de­scribed the con­stant drum­beat of of­fers they re­ceive in the form of let­ters, fliers left on doors and phone calls.

“The cards come ev­ery week. I got a let­ter last week,” said Bar­bara Queen, who has lived in the Gra­ham Heights neigh­bor­hood since 1968. A re­tiree and a wi­dow, she said she makes too much in So­cial Se­cu­rity and her pen­sion from All­state to qual­ify for the county’s homestead tax breaks.

“It’s re­ally get­ting scary to have peo­ple pur­su­ing your prop­erty like this,” Queen said. Her home value went up about 40 per­cent. Queen ap­pealed her tax value dur­ing the last prop­erty reval­u­a­tion and suc­ceeded in get­ting her prop­erty value re­duced. This time, she’s keep­ing a wary eye out for an in­crease.

“If you don’t sell your prop­erty and the tax value keeps go­ing up, you won’t be able to pay your taxes,” she said. “It’s like you’re be­ing squeezed out no mat­ter what.”

Forrest has seen her neigh­bors take of­fers to pur­chase their prop­er­ties for cash at be­low mar­ket value, a prac­tice she be­lieves is preda­tory. She even re­ceived a con­tract in the mail, with an of­fer to buy her home for $200,000.

“Two hun­dred thou­sand seems like a lot of money to some peo­ple,” she said. But, “there’s nowhere in Char­lotte I can move to, es­pe­cially with me be­ing a par­ent.”

On Edi­son Street in Druid Hills, where Gas­ton lives, he es­ti­mates there are about 20 rental prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing a sec­ond house he owns that has tripled in value. He’s re­ceived of­fers to sell his prop­erty, which he isn’t con­sid­er­ing. But Gas­ton thinks in­vestors who own other prop­er­ties will be tempted to sell when they see the ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

“I think it will cer­tainly be a cat­a­lyst for some peo­ple to sell,” Gas­ton said. “This tax reval­u­a­tion will play a role in gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, es­pe­cially for renters.”

Wil­liams, 52, doesn’t know where she would go if she couldn’t af­ford the taxes on her house. She makes $25,000 a year as a school bus driver, and took home only $ 7,000 from her sec­ond job at a tran­si­tion house.

“I can’t imag­ine start­ing over,” she said. “I don’t feel like start­ing over. I feel like I’m too old.”

DIEDRA LAIRD [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Les­lie Wil­liams, a bus driver for Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Schools, lives in a Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity house in Sev­ersville in the John­son C. Smith Univer­sity area. Her home’s tax value jumped 188 per­cent.

DIEDRA LAIRD [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

James Atkin­son’s house sits at the end of a cul-de-sac in Op­ti­mist Park, a neigh­bor­hood that stretches north along the Blue Line ex­ten­sion from up­town to NoDa. One day, he looked out his win­dow was con­fronted with a new re­al­ity. “A hair on my arm came up,” he said, “And I knew that things would change. And things rapidly did change.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.