Homework for Greensboro mayoral candidates

by Jordan Green


In 2009, the Greensboro Housing Coalition hosted its annual housing summit at FantaCity, the former site of Guilford Mills.

“If you think of it, in 1995 about 3,000 people worked there making $25 to $30 an hour,” Greensboro Assistant City Manager for Economic Development Andy Scott told the advocates and officials assembled for this year’s summit. “In 2011, four or five hundred people work there making $8.11 an hour. And that’s a metaphor for the way Greensboro is going.”

He could have mentioned that Guilford Mills’ old warehouse behind the main facility has also recently served as a Colombian restaurant and heavy metal club — at the same time. Maybe that’s a metaphor for the schizophrenic culture that has developed in this city.

This year’s housing summit — held on Feb. 16 at Emerald Events Center — took stock of the city’s housing picture. It’s not as bad as in comparable cities, but a mandated report prepared by city and county officials for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, identifies a gap of 22,000 affordable housing units. That’s not because we haven’t built enough apartments; indeed, there is a glut of vacant housing. That’s because the people who need the housing don’t have the income to keep up rent or mortgages.

To get a sense of the strain Greensboro families are experiencing, the same report found that 46 percent of renters and 16 percent of homeowners are “housing cost burdened.” That means they spend more than 30 percent of their household income on rent or the mortgage.

“Economically, Greensboro’s been suffering since 1995,” Scott said. “We’ve lost thousands and thousands of jobs. In this region, we’ve lost 95,000 jobs in about 20 years — jobs that were goodpaying jobs, jobs that you could raise families on, jobs that you could send kids to college on, jobs that you could achieve the American dream. And a lot of those jobs aren’t here anymore.”

Another way of looking at it: The report to HUD finds that Greensboro is about twice as poor today as it was in 1995. The recent economic downturn accelerated what was already a grim trend line: The State of the City report issued in January found that one in five Greensboro residents was living in poverty in 2009, compared to about one in six in 2008.

Good-paying employment is the most important factor in stabilizing housing. There are also some specific policy options that can be taken to ease the pressure on those of us trying to pursue the dream: Building affordable housing near shopping areas, workplaces, daycare and public transportation stops; weatherizing housing to reduce energy costs; improving the efficiency of public transportation; and educating prospective homeowners on building good credit.

Mayor Bill Knight was at the summit to accept a $3.1 million check from HUD. Councilman Robbie Perkins, who plans to challenge Knight in this year’s mayoral race, was also there, shaking hands.

Hopefully they took notes.

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