Charlotte lead­ers con­sider how to undo ‘legacy’ of hous­ing seg­re­ga­tion

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DANIELLE CHEMTOB dchem­[email protected]­lot­teob­

Charlotte of­fi­cials are ex­plor­ing a con­tro­ver­sial pol­icy that could change the makeup of sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods, as part of a move to boost af­ford­able hous­ing and ad­dress the city’s his­tory of racial seg­re­ga­tion.

The city’s plan­ning staff is look­ing into ending sin­gle-fam­ily zon­ing, with the goal of open­ing up res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods to other hous­ing types like du­plexes and triplexes. Such a pro­posal would then need to be ap­proved by the City Coun­cil.

The idea gained na­tional at­ten­tion in De­cem­ber when Min­neapo­lis im­ple­mented it city­wide. Min­neapo­lis au­thor­i­ties hoped their pol­icy would re­duce racial seg­re­ga­tion in a city that, like Charlotte, sees wide in­equities be­tween many of its black and white res­i­dents.

While there’s no for­mal pro­posal for elim­i­nat­ing sin­gle­fam­ily zon­ing in Charlotte yet, Plan­ning Direc­tor Taiwo Jaiyeoba hopes the city will con­sider do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar to Min­neapo­lis.

If im­ple­mented, it would be a ma­jor change for city neigh

bor­hoods. Around 60% of Charlotte’s land area is zoned for sin­gle-fam­ily devel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to city data.

Elim­i­nat­ing sin­gle­fam­ily zon­ing wouldn’t pre­vent any­one from build­ing a sin­gle-fam­ily house. But in Min­neapo­lis, the aim was to create dif­fer­ent types of hous­ing in wealthy, pre­dom­i­nantly white neigh­bor­hoods that have been de­fined by sin­gle-fam­ily homes for decades.

Charlotte of­fi­cials, his­to­ri­ans and oth­ers say the goal is to undo more than 70 years of zon­ing poli­cies that helped per­pet­u­ate seg­re­ga­tion.

When Charlotte’s first zon­ing or­di­nance was writ­ten just after World War II, ex­clu­sive, all-white neigh­bor­hoods like My­ers Park were zoned for sin­gle-fam­ily houses. But African Amer­i­cans were barred from pur­chas­ing homes in those ar­eas due to poli­cies like deed re­stric­tions. Mean­while, African Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hoods tended to be zoned for in­dus­trial uses.

Those zon­ing des­ig­na­tions still largely de­fine where black and white Charlotte res­i­dents live to­day.

“Zon­ing has been his­tor­i­cally used as a way to create in­equal­ity,” said City Coun­cil mem­ber Larken Egle­ston. “It was the tool that got us at least in part to the place where we are now. It’s got to be one of the tools that we use to try to cor­rect the wrongs of the past.”

Pro­po­nents of get­ting rid of sin­gle-fam­ily zon­ing say it al­lows mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties to ac­cess af­ford­able hous­ing in ar­eas with bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties. Charlotte ranked last among 50 cities for up­ward eco­nomic mo­bil­ity in a 2014 study.

“If you want to build a suc­cess­ful, in­clu­sive city, you have to in­crease your hous­ing sup­ply and give peo­ple choice,” Jaiyeoba said. “That’s one way to re­ally re­duce racial dis­par­i­ties and al­low peo­ple to age in their com­mu­ni­ties.”


When plan­ning of­fi­cials in Min­neapo­lis set out to de­fine the city’s fu­ture, they looked to its past.

Lo­cal lead­ers were work­ing on the “Min­neapo­lis 2040” com­pre­hen­sive plan, which ad­dresses is­sues like af­ford­able hous­ing, the en­vi­ron­ment and racial in­equal­ity.

Min­neapo­lis had re­cently been ranked the na­tion’s fourth-worst city for black res­i­dents in a study from fi­nan­cial news firm 24/7 Wall St. The study, which looked at racial dis­par­i­ties in metro ar­eas, cited the city’s his­tory of re­stric­tive hous­ing covenants and 20th cen­tury zon­ing poli­cies.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the role that zon­ing played in those dis­par­i­ties was the idea be­hind the de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate sin­gle-fam­ily zon­ing, said Heather Wor­thing­ton, direc­tor of lon­grange plan­ning for Min­neapo­lis.

“Things are the way they are for a rea­son,” she said. “And that is not some­thing that we can ig­nore. We have to con­front that his­tory and we have to work at un­do­ing it.”

Still, Min­neapo­lis didn’t sud­denly al­low for apart­ment build­ings with hun­dreds of units to pop up next to sin­gle-fam­ily homes. In­stead, its plan per­mits up to three res­i­den­tial units per lot.


While race-based zon­ing was out­lawed by the Supreme Court in 1917, cities im­ple­mented zon­ing rules that in prac­tice kept African Amer­i­cans out of sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods, said Jeff Michael, direc­tor of the UNC Charlotte Ur­ban In­sti­tute. Deed re­stric­tions, redlin­ing and other poli­cies pre­vented African Amer­i­cans from buy­ing homes.

Charlotte’s first zon­ing or­di­nance was writ­ten in 1947.

“What the sin­gle-fam­ily zon­ing helped do was to des­ig­nate cer­tain neigh­bor­hoods as the good neigh­bor­hoods for you to buy your own home,” said lo­cal his­to­rian Tom Hanchett. “Not every­one was wel­come in those neigh­bor­hoods in South Charlotte.”

Ar­eas like My­ers Park, Dil­worth and Eas­tover were zoned sin­gle-fam­ily, while African Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hoods like Brook­lyn were given an in­dus­trial des­ig­na­tion. That made it eas­ier for the city to bull­doze the Brook­lyn neigh­bor­hood, ac­cord­ing to Hanchett’s book, “Sort­ing Out the New South City.” African Amer­i­can res­i­dents had very lit­tle say in new devel­op­ment in in­dus­trial ar­eas, while the zon­ing or­di­nance pro­tected the white res­i­dents in sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods, he said.

“Down­town busi­ness lead­ers looked for­ward to the day when those ar­eas would be cleared of houses and re­de­vel­oped,” Hanchett wrote.

Those zon­ing cat­e­gories still di­vide Charlotte by race and in­come. Many of the city’s sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods are in the south, an area known as the wedge, where the av­er­age in­come is close to $80,000 and over 60% of res­i­dents are white, ac­cord­ing to city data.

The av­er­age in­come in the cres­cent, an area en­com­pass­ing west, north and east of up­town, is around $50,000, and just over 67% of res­i­dents are non-white. Most of the city’s in­dus­trial zon­ing is con­cen­trated in that area.

While laws no longer ban African Amer­i­cans from sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods, the legacy of those poli­cies still im­pacts the wealth gap be­tween blacks and whites, ex­perts say. The na­tional home own­er­ship rate for African Amer­i­cans was 43% in the last quar­ter of 2018, com­pared to 74% for whites, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau.

“His­toric land use poli­cies in Charlotte — like in most cities — were cre­ated to seg­re­gate whites and blacks and poor from rich,” said Shan­non Binns, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Sus­tain Charlotte, an ad­vo­cacy group for sus­tain­able growth. “We’re liv­ing with the legacy of that.”


Charlotte is rewrit­ing the rules gov­ern­ing its growth for the first time in more than 20 years, through a pol­icy known as the Uni­fied Devel­op­ment Or­di­nance. Those rules dic­tate what can be built where, from high-rises to sin­gle-fam­ily homes.

The City Coun­cil is ex­pected to vote on the first piece of the plan, which deals with devel­op­ment near tran­sit, on Mon­day.

When the news about Min­neapo­lis broke, Jaiyeoba, the plan­ning direc­tor, de­cided to see if Charlotte had an ap­petite for the same type of pol­icy. Ore­gon’s state leg­is­la­ture is con­sid­er­ing a sim­i­lar pro­posal.

The topic hasn’t come up yet in coun­cil dis­cus­sions, and Jaiyeoba would still have to con­vince the pub­lic and a com­mit­tee that rec­om­mends pro­pos­als to the coun­cil.

But the af­ford­able hous­ing cri­sis has been a cen­tral fo­cus for the City Coun­cil and Charlotte’s plan­ning staff as they draft the or­di­nance.

Lim­its on the num­ber of units devel­op­ers can build in sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods make it dif­fi­cult to keep prices af­ford­able for buy­ers, said Joe Padilla, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Charlotte real es­tate and build­ing in­dus­try group REBIC. The av­er­age home price in Meck­len­burg County was just over $320,000 last year, an in­crease of around 50 per­cent from 2011, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study from UNCC’s Chil­dress Klein Cen­ter for Real Es­tate.

“The re­al­ity is, as land val­ues go up, it’s harder and harder to make hous­ing val­ues af­ford­able if you’re lim­ited to one home per lot,” Padilla said.

Un­der cur­rent zon­ing poli­cies, sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods are split into cat­e­gories based on den­sity, with R-3 be­ing the low­est, per­mit­ting three res­i­den­tial units per acre. Over the years, poli­cies have been adopted to al­low ex­cep­tions: cor­ner units can have du­plexes, for in­stance.

“I think a lot of peo­ple think about the ex­tremes — a sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hood, or a bunch of apart­ments ev­ery­where,” said Binns, with Sus­tain Charlotte. “What we’re miss­ing in Charlotte is re­ferred to as the miss­ing mid­dle. The six unit, the four unit, the du­plexes that in­crease the num­ber of peo­ple that can live in the neigh­bor­hood.”


The con­cept of mixed hous­ing types isn’t so new in Charlotte.

Some of Charlotte’s old­est and most ex­clu­sive neigh­bor­hoods, like El­iz­a­beth, Dil­worth and My­ers Park, were built be­fore the 1947 zon­ing or­di­nance. In those ar­eas, sin­gle-fam­ily homes, du­plexes and apart­ment build­ings sit side-by-side.

“For prob­a­bly close to 75 years, Amer­i­can cities were devel­op­ing along those lines: sin­gle-fam­ily homes next to du­plexes next to small scale apart­ment build­ings,” Min­neapo­lis plan­ner Wor­thing­ton said. “In the 1930s and ’40s, we started to in­ter­rupt that pat­tern.”

While the mea­sure passed Min­neapo­lis’ City Coun­cil with a 12-1 vote, it had vo­cal op­po­si­tion — the city re­ceived thou­sands of pub­lic com­ments, and sev­eral com­mu­nity groups filed a law­suit. At one meet­ing, Wor­thing­ton was told that she is the “most hated woman in the city,” Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio re­ported.

Still, some are skep­ti­cal that Charlotte could pull off as sweep­ing a change as Min­neapo­lis made.

Michael with the Ur­ban In­sti­tute said there would likely be a con­tentious de­bate if a sim­i­lar pol­icy was pro­posed in Charlotte. “I think it would be a hard sell in this com­mu­nity,” he said.

In many cases, city poli­cies ac­tu­ally pro­mote low­den­sity, sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods. Most neigh­bor­hoods have area plans, many of which call for high-den­sity devel­op­ment on a few blocks, and main­tain­ing the sin­gle­fam­ily char­ac­ter of the res­i­den­tial ar­eas else­where.

“Those are two op­po­site pri­or­i­ties: you can­not keep den­sity down and re­main com­pet­i­tively af­ford­able,” said Collin Brown, a land use at­tor­ney with K&L Gates in Charlotte.

And some neigh­bor­hoods still pri­vately re­strict devel­op­ment through deed re­stric­tions. On its web­site, for in­stance, the My­ers Park Home­own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion ex­plains that its deed re­stric­tions “dic­tate that prop­erty in My­ers Park will be used for sin­gle­fam­ily (or res­i­den­tial) pur­poses only.”

Even if the City Coun­cil al­lows for du­plexes in sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bor­hoods, Brown said devel­op­ers could still face lit­i­ga­tion from neigh­bor­hood groups us­ing deed re­stric­tions. On its web­site, the My­ers Park as­so­ci­a­tion states that it has a “sub­stan­tial” le­gal fund des­ig­nated for law­suits that en­force those re­stric­tions.

Even if an out­right elim­i­na­tion of sin­gle-fam­ily zon­ing isn’t pos­si­ble, any­thing that per­mits more den­sity will be a step in the right di­rec­tion, some lo­cal lead­ers say.

“For the pub­lic to get on board and for the lead­ers to get on board,” Egle­ston said, “I think it’s prob­a­bly more of a baby step ap­proach.”

Binns, with Sus­tain Charlotte, praised Min­neapo­lis’ plan, and said do­ing away with sin­gle­fam­ily zon­ing is just one step in ad­dress­ing racial dis­par­i­ties.

“We have to be just as bold to­day to undo the dam­age that was done 100 or so years ago,” he said.


JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­

Charlotte’s old­est neigh­bor­hoods, like My­ers Park and El­iz­a­beth, were built with a mix of hous­ing. His­to­ri­ans say zon­ing later per­pet­u­ated seg­re­ga­tion. Th­ese homes are off South Kings Drive and Hen­ley Place.

Cour­tesy of the city of Charlotte

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