Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Middle Class Squeeze in Charlotte

You heard it here first: Charlotte slowly becoming a city of stark haves and have-nots?
Two different bits of recent news coverage might sound a warning bell.
First was Michelle Crouch’s article Jan. 11, “Homes’ sum is greater than parts” about the Montibello Crossing neighborhood. A developer wants to buy the whole 47-acre neighborhood – all 63 homes, vintage 1970s – and tear them down so he can build much pricier houses (or, as one Eastover resident I know calls them, “arriviste mansions.”)
Last year the average sale price for Montibello Crossing houses was $257,000. Several neighboring subdivisions are much ritzier, with average sale prices last year in Gleneagles at $610,000, Quail Hollow at $690,000 and Seven Eagles at $851,300.
The second piece was the excellent series, just concluded, on the problem of foreclosures in Mecklenburg County. Did you look at the map? Since the foreclosure problem is primarily tied to entry-level (i.e., inexpensive) housing, the map shows a large band of neighborhoods, sweeping east to west across the county, generally north of downtown, are being filled with new subdivisions holding nothing but entry-level housing.
Don’t get me wrong. This city needs housing that people who aren’t wealthy can buy. We don’t want everyone who isn’t making a six-figure income to have to move to Union, Cabarrus or Gaston County. I’m not saying it’s a problem that those houses are being built (although if you read the series, you’ll see it’s a problem when mortgages are given to people who shouldn’t really get them, and foreclosure results). The problem comes when too much housing for low-income people gets concentrated, instead of being sprinkled throughout the city amid higher-income housing.
Here’s market reality: If you cluster too many subdivisions of low-cost houses, you can’t sell higher-end houses in that area. People think it isn’t a good investment – and they’re probably right. All those starter-home subdivisions may well be condemning large chunks of Charlotte to a foreseeable future of nothing but low-income residents. It’s an economic monoscape in the making, and not one that will be healthy for the city.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from the past half-century, it’s that neighborhoods housing only large concentrations of poor people are more prone to crime, drugs, social problems and joblessness.
Then, in south Charlotte you’ve got people in moderate-level housing being squeezed out by super-expensive housing.
Catch my drift? Does this not sound like a future of economic apartheid?
What will that kind of future mean for public schools? Once the courts threw out the old, court-ordered student assignment plan, the schools rapidly splintered by income and race – reflecting the way the city’s neighborhoods are segregated by income. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is staggering from large, and unexpected, increases in low-income and immigrant students. (Yes, many do very well, and being poor shouldn’t mean any student gets a worse education. But statistics show that as a group, kids from poor homes don’t do as well as kids from wealthier ones, and they require a disproportionate amount of public money in order to give them an equitable education.)
Meanwhile, the slow attrition of affluent kids into private schools or home schools continues as the rich get richer, and the influx of poor and immigrant kids tilts formerly middle-income schools into the high-poverty category.
Can the middle class even hold on here? It’s not a comforting vision of the future.

18 comments:

Nfamous said...

White flight is just a fact of life. Whether it's white people fleeing to the safety of the suburbs of putting their kids in private school, it's all the same. De facto segregation is alive and well in the south.

Whites still believe that they deserve everything better than blacks and other minorities. If they can't get it then they feel like a huge failure since this society values whiteness so much. They say they want the best for their kids but money doesn't all buy the best.
These kids grow up with no idea of how to relate to other races.

Contrary to popular belief black people don't care if white people take their kids out of public schools. It's never been about being around white people. Blacks don't like whites any more than whites like us. What blacks do want is equal access to quality education but history has proven that without white people present, it never happens. This is really a shame that we are going backwards like this and right after the message of MLK that we all know but seldom practice.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is, kids (at say, kindergarten age) don't see each other in terms of race. My white kids (6 and 3) play at Freedom Park with (not just beside, but with) blacks and hispanics without a second thought. It's only when they start being influenced by adult biases (such as those posted here) that racism rears its ugly head.

On to what I originally logged on to say: Mary, pick a side of the fence, please. When talking about the problem of sprawl, you note, "That’s not the way cities evolve naturally when left to their own devices." Then you criticize "arriviste mansions," which, of course, are the result of intown neighborhoods evolving naturally when left to their own devices.

So, which is it? Should we let market forces prevail, or should we have the government tell us what to do? And if the latter, just curious: are you prepared to put historic preservation status on your own intown home, which would prevent a McMansion but severely limit your resale value?

Chef said...

Good article, but I'm n ot sure what you're asking for.
Do you want mandated housing - force people to live certain places so they are integrated? Do you want to force developers to build $800k subdivisions next to $150k subdivisions?
It seems like you want to force some sort of 'solution' but fall short of saying what it is.
If people can afford $800k houses, why not let them build and live where they want?

As for all the foreclosures, I failed to see much blamed placed on the actual homeowners. They were 'victims', right? Screwed over by greedy developers, real estate agents and mortgage brokers?
Why aren't the homeowners also responsible? They are adults, they signed the paperwork, they were told to read it and make sure they understood it. Surely some of the blame falls on them if they could not do all that.
Saying 'i just really wanted to get in that home' is not an excuse.

If the homeowners could not understand what they were getting into and that their mortgage payments could rise VERY quickly maybethey should stay as renters? Maybe they aren't capable of dealing with the responsibility of homeownership.
But the Observer would never print that - they wouldn't have a victim them...

Anonymous said...

Oh good Lord chef. Here we go with the *might as well be communists* line of hysterical already.

Anonymous said...

Regarding schools, the Observer is a little late to the party. Tara Servatious at Creative Loafing made the point some while ago that the district is quickly moving toward a majority of minority students. But contrary to the impression that nfamous seems to have that white parents are fleeing from black students, the demographic information for the last few years makes it pretty clear that newcommers are freqeuntly choosing to live outside of the county. That is a problem driven by the chaotic school system as much as anything. It certainly is not white parents wanting something for their oiwn kids tht they want to deny to black kids.

What all parents want is a good, stable school with a good reputation for educaiton. Those who can afford to avoid putting their kids in what they see as low performing schools and unresponsive school systems do so, whether they are black or white. If you live in Mecklenberg, are middle income, and own a home, the odss are that you're to some degree stuck. But if you're coming from elsewhere, and have to buy a home somewhere, the odds are that you're going to pay attention to the schools in making that choice. That would be why the growth in white students has been flat.

(and here's a clue for you nfamous: equal access to public schools in Mecklenberg county has been a fact of life for quite a while. It really is ludicrous to claim that the school board -for most of the recent years of growth of the system headed by a black man- was systematically short chaging the predominatnly black schools. The fact is that per pupil spending at the predominantly black schools is higher than at the remainder.

Of course that basically comes down to equal access to a system that has ignored discipline problems and disrupted students lives through frequent assignment changes, but that's been everyone's burden in CMS, not just that of black people. Undeniably, economics make it possible for the more affluent of all races to opt out fo the system -largely by locating to surrounding counties, but that is hardly a matter of whites demanding what they want to deny to blacks.)

As for black people not "liking whites any more than whites like blacks", speak for yourself. As a black man, I don't give a rat'srear end what color someone is. And I don't have much more time for your racism than I do for David Duke's.

Jus' Tressie said...

I'm not sure I read the same article as the rest of the posters as they seem to be preoccupied with the school system and not what seemed to me to be the real issue: the de-evolution of the American middle class.

It's not just Charlotte. Most mid to large sized cities are seeing the same thing. I submit the following anctedotal evidence:

A friend of mine makes $34,000 a year. With a VERY modest car payment of approximately $250/month, no student loans and no children she can BARELy afford a decent (read: safe, fairly modern) one bedroom apartment. Factor in doing all the right things we're told to do: contribute to your 401k, build a savings cushion, invest, etc. and it's almost impossible to live in Charlotte at what is considered a "middle class" income.

My friends and I are that generation that did all the right things. We went to college, we left our parents home, and we struck out on our own. We are educated, professional, child free with no criminal record and yes *shocker* most of us are African American and yet almost NONE of us can afford to live without some financial help.

And it's not a minority issue. It's a national issue. We pay more than our fair share of taxes for social services we don't use. That's right I pay just as much to send those kids to Myers Park as I do to send them to Garinger. We have played by the rules and yet it isn't paying off.

What's happening? A lack of white collar mid level professional jobs. Our parents are retiring because they can't so jobs don't offer career growth. Those that have retired have taken the retail jobs we may have once used to supplement our income. Rental housing goes up consistently every year with no incentives from the government for builders to create affordable housing. Some of us buy house hoping to escape that squeeze and find ourselves in an oversaturated townhome or "affordable" home market.

Tavis Smiley says, "When America catches a cold, Black Americans catch the flu."

That is to say that the realities my friends and I are facing are just a few years away from affecting millions of Americans. What do we do? I"m not sure, but bitching about busing and white flight and mcmansions probably isn't a constructive use of our energies.

Chilton said...

If I read the article correctly, the issue is not white flight. The issue is neighborhood affordability or a concern about a crude form of gentrification. Perhaps it's about market-based urban renewal. Regardless, no race or class SHOULD have a monopoly on place. Communities are dynamic and fluid. Unfortunately, once a neighborhood "turns" wealthy, it rarely turns back to low-to-moderate income. So the question is, where do the middle income earners live if they're squeezed out? The answer is Pulturbia: cheap, on-slab housing with faux "community". So, the market forces that promote higher and better uses in one neighborhood unleash other forces that affect communities elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

If the homeowners such as those in Montibello sell they will not just disappear. Some of them may seek to move to more suburban locations but some of them, remember they were living in "Montibello" for some reason, may seek new housing in a similar location of similar amenities. That will create a market that developers, builders and realtors will try and satisfy. To do so will require the creation of suitable mid-level housing and that housing may go in an area previously seen as suitable for entry level or just as mid-level was redeveloped as upper level the entry level may be redeveloped as mid-level. That is how a market works.

Now CMS ........

Curious_George said...

The responder who complained that the middle class can't make it without financial help is slightly off her/his rocker.

If someone went to college and is only making $34k - that is their own problem. You can get jobs at Home Depot that pay that much - without a college deggree. You can and should do better with a college degree.

If not, that is not anyone's fault. It is a competitive world and there are winners and losers. No gov't program will change that, as much as the libs try.

My dad used to say 'the world needs ditch diggers too' - meaning that not everyone is meant to be a $100k a year, living in Ballantyne successful person. Maybe that poster needs to think about that...success is not guaranteed.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

What kills me is the whole concept of "starter home." I think they are
literally designed so no one can stand to live in them very long! Poor
design, cheap inferior materials, bad landscaping, energy inefficient. Why
build a piece of junk? Is the demand for that artificial? I think it is.
"You must live in this piece of crap in the hope of moving out one day."
What a load of bull.

Anonymous said...

People are missing the point....why in a time of unprecendented growth in Charlotte are we ranked only 252 out of 265 cities in home appreciation between 2000 and 2005. How can it be that the average sale price of a home is higher in Gaston County than in Mecklenburg County? How did most of Charlotte miss the benefits of having homes appreciate during the recent increase in home prices across the country? How can it possibly be good for Charlotte's fiscal future to have only 1/4 of town appreciating in value but the rest of Charlotte not increasing in value? The old saying that too much of one thing is not a good thing...also applies to when we are developing neighborhoods. A better mixture of housing size and prices within neighborhoods and withing different parts of the City would help to create healthier neighborhoods. Today we have two Charlottes...and the future looks pretty grim.

Disgusted in Union Co said...

Just take the excellent comments by nfamous and substitute the word "working class" for "black" and the words "nouveau riche" for "white" and the comments become even more excellent.

It's only to be expected that size envy would be such a part of Charlotte's fabric. Sure, the McMansion blight is a problem nationwide, but Charlotte - banking center that it is - is a city based on greed and the shallow trappings of monetary excess. In such an environment, the "livable home" located anywhere near a colony of bloated McMansions is an endangered species. God forbid the investment banker would have to live next door to the home of the data entry clerk...and God forbid their children would have to attend the same school.

It's always interesting to see the responses of the ultra-right free-marketers on Mary's blogs. Lines like "if I can afford an $800,000 house than it's my business where I live and the market dictates it anyway" demonstrate the complete lack of social awareness of some of these people. The recent evolution of our language - for example, whereby the words "wealth" and "success" have become synonyms - proves just how far we have fallen as a society.

Happy_in_my_McMansion said...

I find disgusted in union cty's response to be mean and spiteful. You seem to want to put down those wo work hard and achieve a level of success, whether monetary or otherwise.
You say those who aspire to that $800k house lack a social awareness. Yet you don't back any of your statements up with facts or further commentary.

You seem to just be screeching that you don't like successful people or those who aspire to be something more. Don't look down on others because they have a different viewpoint than you. You might be surprised to learn that that uber-successful banker doesn't give two snits what you think. Your condemnation reeks of jealosy.

Chilton said...

Union County is an interesting case study. In the last 2 years, a total of 6,978 housing units have been built. Only 4 "attached" housing units were built during this time. The creation of an affluent enclave is purposeful. I'm not sure if it correlates with "social awarness" or not. It most likely is associated with group think, though. Similar people from similar backgrounds thinking similar thoughts. We consider it pathalogic when poor folks are congregated together.

Anonymous said...

Happy in my mcmansion needs to learn how to spell. Hard to believe people can earn so much with so little education! Jealousy by the way has a "u" in it.

Living_Simple_in_Mecklenburg said...

Wow! 8 Years ago, I entered the Middle Class and bought my first home. I was told by the mortgage company that I would most likely only live in my 'first' home for about 4 years as they tried to hook me on higher interest rates. Then the CEO of the company I worked for thought that all that Immigrant labor looked really cheap and I was out the door and out of a job. For the past two years I have held on to this vanishing dream of being 'middle class'. Happy in Her McMansion seems to think she is the only one who might be working hard. Jealousy, no matter how you spell it, never entered the picture for me, just what I thought was the American Dream. Fat Chance for us plebs.

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