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City Life Critics’ Pick Winners: Best in the Nest 2022

The best of Charlotte's city life as chosen by Nerve critics

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A composite image blending the Charlotte city skyline with a historical archive photo of Trade Street in Charlotte
A composite image blending the Charlotte city skyline with a historical archive photo of Trade Street in Charlotte (Trade Street photo: Courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library; Design by Justin LaFrancois)

Every day there are folks working hard to ensure a better future for our city. This is for them.

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LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Ella Scarborough

Ella Butler Scarborough was a keystone of Charlotte politics for over three decades, but she almost didn’t make it to the Queen City. As a student at South Carolina State University, she joined a protest to desegregate a bowling alley; South Carolina Highway Patrol officers fired into the crowd killing three of her classmates and injuring many more. Ella survived and went on to be the first African American woman elected to the Charlotte City Council, then the first to serve as chair of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. She inspired many women leaders who continue to serve today, and her 2022 passing marks another blow to the collective memory of our community.

A head shot of an elderly black woman wearing purple
Ella Scarborough (Courtesy of the Office of Alma Adams)

“Ella’s survival — in the first days of her life, during the Civil Rights Movement, and even at the Orangeburg Massacre — was a miracle, but the greater miracle of Ella Scarborough was that after she counted her many blessings, she extended those blessings to others, both as a member of her faith home, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, and as an elected official and public servant,” stated U.S. Rep. Alma Adams during a speech honoring Scarborough on the floor of the United States House of Representatives in June. “Blessings are not just ours to have, but to give. That was the lesson I hope we can all learn from Councilwoman, Commissioner, and Chairwoman Ella Scarborough as we honor and remember her.”


LOCAL HERO: Calla Hales

Speaking at a protest in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on June 24 following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Calla Hales called the Supreme Court illegitimate and called the United States “a country that is becoming a nation of conservative Christofascism.”

After stating the many reasons she had to be enraged over the decision and the political climate surrounding it, Hales said, “Tonight I’m reminding us all that this is not the moment to lose ourselves in our heartbreak. There is too much at stake to lose ourselves in the oblivion of grief. Instead, it’s the moment to lose ourselves to rage and let it radicalize us. Our personal rights, our freedoms and our lives are at stake.”

Three woman stand together, with Calla Hales on the left
Calla Hales (left) stands with other abortion activists. (Courtesy of Calla Hales)

Hales is the co-owner and executive director at A Preferred Women’s Health Center, a network of abortion clinics that includes four locations: one in east Charlotte and one in Raleigh, where abortions are still very much legal; and two in Georgia, where an abortion ban took effect shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

The Georgia ban was blocked by a judge in November, leaving Hales unsure of where things will stand in the future, but we’re sure she will continue to help folks receive the health care they deserve one way or another.


MOST EXCITING NEWCOMER: Dante Anderson

Dante Anderson was elected to the Charlotte City Council representing District 1 this year. Anderson experienced housing instability and food insecurity growing up in and around the Southside Homes community in south Charlotte, as she explained during an episode of Queen City Nerve’s Nooze Hounds podcast following her election, so she understands what many Charlotte residents need in their representative. She is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community and hopes to make the city a more diverse and inclusive place.

Dante Anderson stands in front of a vibrantly covered wall, wearing a Pat Metheny t-shirt.
Dante Anderson became the new District 1 rep on Charlotte City Council this year. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Anderson holds a dual Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering and Cinema Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema Studies from New York University’s The Tisch School, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She said she wants all Charlotte residents to feel that they can achieve success and plans to apply her professional skills, experience, and insight to help Charlotte City Council advance its goals.


BEST CONTENT CREATOR: Shionda Farrell

In the ever-growing city of Charlotte, it feels like there is a new restaurant every other day. Keeping up with the food scene is equivalent to having a full-time job. In fact, some folks have made it one. Shionda Farrell, a Charlotte-based food and lifestyle content creator, went full-time just a year and a half ago.

Shionda Farrell swings in a chair with her feet tucked up in it and a similar chair in the background
Shionda Farrell (Courtesy of Shionda Farrell)

She started off posting pictures of food to her Instagram for fun. Then as TikTok rose to prominence, short videos and Reels became more appealing to the masses. As Farrell started to post more TikToks and videos, she began to go viral with regularity.

Known as @shiondafarrell on Instagram and on TikTok, Farrell has over 75,000 followers on the platforms combined. She has always been a foodie, and hopes to have her own travel business in the future, bringing people to different countries to try their cuisines and experience their cultures.


BEST TWITTER: T. Greg Doucette, @greg_doucette

Attorney T. Greg Doucette probably shouldn’t qualify for Best in the Nest — not because he’s a conservative, but because he’s in Durham. But hey, Charlotte Twitter has to step its game up because we’re not here to settle. 

Doucette gained our attention with his courthouse stories, then kept it in 2020 with a running thread of police violence against protesters that turned into an archive of unwarranted police violence in general. His advocacy for criminal justice reform and penchant for wholly embarrassing members of the Republican Party, which he left during the Trump era, has kept him in our good graces. 


BEST INSTAGRAM: Yvonne Bynoe, @shelovesblackart

The handle is self-explanatory: Yvonne Bynoe lives Black art, and if you do too you’ll want to follow her Instagram account. Bynoe is a creative herself (we’re looking forward to the Renaissance of Brooklyn exhibit she’s curating for The Brooklyn Collective in January 2023) and a writer who covers art, as well. What we’re trying to say here: She knows her stuff, and that’s how she seeks out the wonderful collections she shares on her Insta regularly.


BEST INSTAGRAM (BUSINESS): Camp North End, @campnorthend

The fun thing about all the great aesthetics on the Camp North End Insta is that there really is as much to do there as the account makes it seem like. In other words, the FOMO is justified. From Bayhaven Food & Wine Fest to Dia de los Muertos altars to Friday Nights at Camp North End, there’s always something going on and it’s always Instagrammable. 


BEST TIKTOK: Cory Wilkins, @blackguyscook

They say you should never go grocery shopping hungry, and that’s because you’ll end up buying out the store. You should never visit Cory’s TikTok when you’re hungry, but that’s only because you might faint. It’s a great guide to turn to if you’re looking for a new spot to try for lunch though. We’ve discovered The Premiere Chef, Shell’s Kitchen, Renaldo’s and so many more thanks to Cory’s work.


BEST REPORTER: David Hodges

In an age of disinformation and access journalism, Charlotte is lucky to have many local reporters willing to grind, go deep into a story, and do the work. This year, WBTV investigative reporter David Hodges stands out for his consistent, vital reporting on the state of the Charlotte Area Transportation System (CATS), the growing Tepper Sports & Entertainment empire, and challenges that affect Charlotte residents. 

Hodges also shines light on local government’s notorious stonewalling practices. In August 2021, he didn’t have much luck submitting Freedom of Information Act requests as reporter “David Hodges.” However, as O.W. Kenobi, he was able to receive a request from Charlotte Fire in record time. With his reporting, Hodges makes it clear the ability to hide a public record is insignificant next to the power of The Force.

David Hodges WBTV
WBTV’s David Hodges in the Nooze Hounds studio. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

BEST NEWSLETTER: Charlotte on the Cheap

It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing newsletter in the city, but it’s the most utilitarian. They say Charlotte’s got a lot, and local writer Jody Mace is on top of all of it, putting together guides daily that range from event listings to coupons and everything in between. Mace launched Charlotte on the Cheap in 2009, making her an OG of the newsletter scene, and she’s still on top of her game.


BEST STATE NEWSLETTER: NC Local

Maybe we’re biased, but this niche weekly newsletter from Eric Frederick at Elon University covering all things local journalism keeps our attention each time it hits the inbox. The veteran journalist offers resources and links to training, funding opportunities, plus examples of good work from throughout the state. Sure, we’ve made the latter list a few times, but that’s not why we’ve chosen NC Local; we’re in it for the love of the game. 


BEST PODCAST: ‘Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis’

It’s been cool to hear veteran Charlotte journalist Mary C. Curtis make her mark in the podcast game over the last year, filling in as guest host for Mary Harris on Slate’s daily What Next pod, but she’s in her element when she’s chasing down the stories she’s most passionate about in her monthly episodes of Equal Time. As listed in the show description: “Curtis tackles policies and politics through the lens of social justice, illuminating the issues that have been, and still are, dividing the country.”


BEST COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: Ismaail Qaiyim

Ismaail Qaiyim, founder and principal attorney at Queen City Community Law Firm and political education and policy co-chair with Housing Justice Coalition CLT, was hired earlier this year to help vendors at the Central Market, a flea market that has operated on the former Eastland Mall site since 2015, who were displaced on Feb. 11 in the lead-up to the site’s redevelopment.

A Black man in a blue shirt and tie
Ismaail Qaiyim. (Courtesy of Ismaail Qaiyim)

“We wanted to be able to have a meeting, figure out what the plan was,” Qaiyim told Queen City Nerve following the February eviction from Eastland, which involved aggressive police. “Everybody knew that the vendors were going to have to go to a different site, but at the same time, giving a week or two weeks of notice instead of this, I felt like they escalated the situation by doing it this way.”

Qaiyim helped the vendors form the Central Market Association, which partnered with Hector Vaca at Action NC to call on the city for help to relocate and continue on with their market. After months of work, CMA and Action NC were successful, launching a new market in the Galleria in November. 


BEST ACTIVIST/ADVOCATE: Leondra Garrett

Being a community advocate is not for the faint of heart, but for Leondra Garrett, there is nothing more important. She has worked with several nonprofit organizations, such as Block Love, an organization assisting houseless people; My Pieces, an organization that she founded to assist Black and brown people on the autism spectrum; and, more recently, Alternatives to Violence, a violence interruption program on the Beatties Ford Road corridor.

A Black woman and Black man stand arm-in-arm under a pop-up tent on a street corner
Leondra Garrett (left) and Earl Owens. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

“I always ask, ‘What else is it that you would like to be doing other than this? So if I can take this away, what else is it that I can give you that you’re really going to stick to and it’s going to be a thing?’” she told Queen City Nerve of her work with at-risk youth. “And that’s been the biggest help for this work.”


BEST ACTIVIST/ADVOCATE ORGANIZATION: Mutual Aid Free Store

The Mutual Aid Free Store (MAFS) formed in November 2020 as a response to Charlotte’s growing crisis of houselessness. The organization, which is founded on principles of mutual aid and harm reduction, seeks to support those living on the streets by providing eviction crisis response, resources and education.

Four people stand around a bonfire in the woods
Mutual Aid Free Store staff (left to right): Magena Davis (Founder), Nic White, Tyler Bone, Nic Feldt. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

In November 2021, MAFS set up two community resource drop boxes, which they call Displaced Donation Stations, where people can drop off clothing, toiletries and other supplies for displaced neighbors. Both projects have earned them national media attention and a sizable social media following thanks in part to their collaboration with local artists to make the boxes stand out.

But MAFS goes beyond awareness campaigns. The organization’s main focuses are eviction crisis response, helping tent-dwelling neighbors safely relocate after an encampment is cleared, and running their namesake free store.


BEST COALITION: Housing Justice Coalition CLT

In July, a grassroots coalition of Charlotte-area community organizations, nonprofits and residents presented its new “Housing Resolution,” a document that lays out the group’s platform, including goals, policies and demands of city leaders all built upon one driving principle: housing as a human right. The Housing Justice Coalition CLT’s new Housing Resolution called for specific actions in three focus areas: tenants’ rights, gentrification and displacement, and development policy/community benefits.

The five-page document made 31 demands of local leaders, mostly directed at elected officials at the city and county level. 

“A lot of the decision-making around housing that directly impacts residents in Mecklenburg County is done by local government,” said Ismaail Qaiyim, political education and policy co-chair with the Housing Justice Coalition. “Local government actors have significant power to enact policies and utilize decision-making towards the realization of housing as a human right.” 

The resolution calls for the city to create an office for tenant/renter assistance and counseling, for the county to expand tax relief plans for residents, and for both local bodies to establish a cap on campaign donations from developers, among other demands.


BEST MENTORSHIP PROGRAM: Camping with Cradle

Inspired by his own trial-and-error experiences with camping, Keith Cradle launched this nonprofit in 2021 as a way to get underserved high school-aged children involved with the outdoors. Cradle leads a group of six to eight kids on a long hike and camping trip for each outing, with a focus on team building, outdoor skills, environmental education and school support throughout the trip. If we know Cradle, we know he’s serious about his food, too, so we expect that even his dehydrated meals are not to be messed with. The CWC team is on winter break but will be hitting the trails again in April as things warm up.

Keith Cradle talks with campers in the woods
Keith Cradle talks with campers. (Courtesy of Camping with Cradle)

BEST WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: Potions & Pixels Legacy Program

In September, Charlotte Hornets and Lowe’s launched a 13-week workforce development program in the Grier Heights community created by Potions & Pixels. Twenty-two students, all of whom were at least 18 years old and live in or have a connection to Grier Heights, learned fundamental, high-demand electrical skills in order to pursue careers in electrical construction.

Students gather around an electrical wiring device during a workforce development program
Students participate in a workforce development program by Potions & Pixels. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The classes took place at the Grier Heights Community Center and other job sites. Students received hands-on learning and training led by EIG Electrical Systems, along with an hourly stipend, equipment, tools and a variety of industry certifications including OSHA 10, Aerial & Scissor Lift, and CPR & First Aid. 

During their time in the program, participants were exposed to and became comfortable engaging with a variety of technologies, including both augmented and virtual reality, and career pathways such as solar energy that are shaping modern electrical construction. Additionally, EIG Electrical Systems and DPR Construction have committed to hiring a minimum of five program graduates, jump-starting their careers within the industry.


BEST NONPROFIT: Carolina Abortion Fund

Founded in 2011 by a collection of people who wanted to make abortion more accessible, the Carolina Abortion Fund (CAF) pays for abortions and the logistics of getting to an abortion clinic. It’s part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, organizations which have existed for years as many states have made abortion increasingly difficult to access even as it remained legal on paper. 

Following the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion regulation will be left entirely up to the states; millions of people will find themselves in abortion care deserts. 

In a typical week, the fund receives about 80 calls and uses $5,000 to cover between 15 and 20 patients. They choose who to fund based on whose appointment is the soonest. The organization encourages those who don’t receive support one week (because their appointment is the following week) to call back when their abortion gets closer in order to potentially receive financial support. The fund also tries to help patients CAF turns away find another source of money. Many clinics have funds they can pull from to help reduce costs for patients who can’t afford their abortion. The Carolina Abortion Fund sometimes helps people access this money from the clinic where their procedure is scheduled.


BEST STATE GOVERNMENT DECISION: Abolishing the Private Club Rule

As North Carolina saw more cities and towns implement social districts, as allowed through a new state law passed in 2021 (and Charlotte continues to drag its feet), state legislators continued to relax Bible Belt restrictions on drinking. 

In July, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a slew of bills into law, including one abolishing a membership rule that had long been seen as burdensome for local bars and that the NC Bar Owners Association (NCBOA) said was “rooted in racist beginnings designed to legally discriminate against people of color.”

The previous law designated any bar that doesn’t serve food — or make enough of its gross income from food sales — as a “private club” and mandated that customers become paid members before they could be served alcohol. That meant customers at Charlotte bars like NoDa 101, Hattie’s Tap & Tavern or 1501 South Mint had to pay a nominal fee, have their ID scanned and give their phone numbers before they could be served.


BEST LOCAL GOVERNMENT DECISION: County’s first Behavioral Health Urgent Care

The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners plans to launch a Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) in Mecklenburg County in early 2023 with help from Carolina Panthers legend Steve Smith. It will be the county’s first mental health urgent care facility. 

At the board’s annual budget retreat in January, Smith announced that Mecklenburg County partnered with Alliance Health, Daymark Recovery and the Steve Smith Family Foundation to create this new facility. 

The BHUC will be a 24/7/365 option to those experiencing crises related to mental illness or substance abuse. The facility will provide immediate mental health treatment to adults and children as an alternative to an emergency room visit. In addition to on-site assessment and treatment, BHUC staff will also be able to refer out cases.

Mecklenburg County will invest $2 million into the construction of the BHUC and plans to cover $750,000 worth of operating fees each year. 

Smith, who has been outspoken about his own struggle with mental illness, presented preliminary plans for the new facility at the retreat. “That is my purpose, and when they lay me in the ground here, I want to leave a legacy on this city the same way that they’ve changed the legacy for my family for generations,” he said.


BEST POP-UP FOR A CAUSE: CML Mobile Library

In January, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library proudly introduced its new mobile library, affectionately referred to as “MoLi” (pronounced “Molly”), to the community. The 33-foot-long vehicle is stocked with over 1,000 books. It travels to high-need areas of Mecklenburg County, such as areas with low or no access to a brick-and-mortar library building.

A side view of the mobile library truck
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s new mobile library, MoLi. (Courtesy of CM Library)

The project is based on diversity, equity and inclusion ethos. MoLi seeks to connect with all age groups across Charlotte by meeting locals where they are. To do so, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library team has mapped out circulating routes to reach readers around Mecklenburg County. 

But MoLi offers more than just books; visitors can access free Wi-Fi inside the mobile library and within a 50-foot radius of the vehicle. MoLi is also ADA-compliant with a wheelchair lift, offers large print books, audiobooks, a Spanish literature selection, storytime and more.


LOCAL ISSUE THAT NEEDS MORE ATTENTION: Mass Death of Caregivers

Research published in October in the Journal of Pediatrics revealed the high toll caregiver deaths are taking on children nationwide, particularly Native American, Hispanic and Black children. The researchers used fertility, household composition data, and COVID-19 and excess death rates to estimate what they termed “COVID-19-associated orphanhood.” They estimated at least 1,855 children in North Carolina lost a caregiver between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.  

Updated estimates now put this number even higher. As reported by Education NC, a new report published in December 2021 by the COVID Collaborative used a similar methodology to expand on the previous estimate, including deaths from January 2020 through mid-November 2021. That study estimated 3,626 children have lost caregivers in North Carolina during that time. 

The death of any caregiver can have negative impacts on the learning and health outcomes of children over the course of their lives. Children who’ve lost caregivers are more likely to experience mental health problems and lower self-esteem. They’re also at higher risk of suicide, violence, sexual abuse and exploitation. Additionally, this type of loss is associated with shorter schooling, at a time when all students are struggling thanks to COVID-19 setbacks.


MOST EXCITING DEVELOPMENT/OPENING: Humane Society of Charlotte Animal Resource Center

To say the old Humane Society of Charlotte (HSC) needed an upgrade is a serious understatement. Crumbling walls, bugs, vermin, tight quarters, improper infrastructure and unhygienic conditions were among the daily challenges employees and volunteers faced at the nonprofit’s longtime shelter on Toomey Avenue in south Charlotte.

The building was originally used by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care and Control division, so it was designed for containment, rather than rehoming and rehabilitation. There also wasn’t enough room to host educational groups, provide resources for behavior modification, hold effective training and owner education, or offer expanded spay/neuter surgeries and other veterinary services. 

On June 1, HSC finally left those struggles in the past with the opening of a new $15-million, 27,000-square-foot animal resource center on Parker Drive off Remount Road in west Charlotte. The new facility, which sits on 17 acres, was a decade in the making, fully funded by community donations raised over a five-year campaign.

woman stands next to large street-level sign that reads Humane Society of Charlotte Mansfield Family Animal Resource Center
Humane Society Of Charlotte CEO Shelly Moore, at the organization’s new facility on Parker Drive. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

MOST EXCITING DEVELOPMENT/OPENING OUTSIDE 485: Cain Center for the Arts, Cornelius

This is not normally the type of category you’d expect for a repeat win, let alone two wins separated by a full year. But alas, you know how those supply lines have delayed just about everything, and since the Cain Center will anchor a north-Mecklenburg town’s arts district that has been in the works since 2013, what was another couple years after we named the Cain Center for the Arts the Most Exciting Development in 2020

It appears the time has finally come: The Cain Center’s grand opening week is scheduled for Jan. 3–7, 2023, with a public open house set for Jan. 3. There is already a full range of concerts, exhibits and classes set to launch throughout next year, so keep your eye on the event calendar.


BEST RENOVATION: Pearl Street Park

Originally opened as a WWII Victory Garden for Charlotte’s Black population, then adopted as part of the now-razed Brooklyn neighborhood, Pearl Street Park in Midtown unveiled its long-anticipated facelift in December 2021: 11 acres along the Little Sugar Creek greenway with basketball courts, a playground, fitness equipment, a pavilion for performances and a lighted field.

Pearl Street’s nicest new attraction is a large sculpture that pays homage to the history of the space. Called “Brooklyn Stories,” the sculpture is engraved with documented quotes and stories from Brooklyn residents. Created by Cliff Garten, the artwork was a collaboration between the Second Ward High School Alumni Association, Levine Museum of the New South, the Arts and Science Council and Mecklenburg County. 

The park and artwork will hopefully serve as a reminder of the harm done by Brooklyn’s destruction, even as it’s surrounded by new construction related to Atrium Health’s coming Innovation District, which they’ve nicknamed The Pearl. 


BEST NEW LAND USE: Ballantyne’s Backyard 

In the 1980 classic Caddyshack, Rodney Dangerfield’s Czervik famously proclaimed, “golf courses and cemeteries are the biggest wastes of prime real estate.” Might we tweak that a bit to say that golf courses are the biggest waste of prime park space? 

Last year, commercial real estate agency Northwood Office opened Ballantyne’s Backyard, a new community park on a former golf course in the Ballantyne neighborhood of south Charlotte.

Ballantyne’s Backyard features over 100 acres of lush green space with the former cart paths making up miles of running and walking trails and the water hazards now serving as catch-and-release fishing holes.

Faces on large balls sit in a green space at a local park
A Charlotte International arts Festival installation at Ballantyne’s Backyard. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

The space is more accessible to the community as a park than when it was a golf course. Over the past year, Ballantyne’s Backyard has put on several public events, including a summer outdoor concert series with food trucks, monthly open-air markets, outdoor movies and group fitness classes.

In September, Ballantyne’s Backyard hosted a number of visual and immersive art installations by international and local artists as part of the inaugural Charlotte International Arts Festival. We’re looking forward to seeing this park continue to become a vital space for the community to gather.


BEST COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Mecklenburg County Participatory Budgeting

Dozens of community projects recommended by residents are currently underway across Mecklenburg County thanks to a new participatory budgeting pilot program called PB Meck.

The county set aside $3 million — $500,000 for each of the six county commission districts — in its FY2023 budget for one-time projects pitched by residents through PB Meck.

In an effort spearheaded by local firm Civility Localized, community volunteers representing each district began working with residents in November 2021 to come up with ideas for projects, which were then vetted by county staff for cost and feasibility. The final list was voted on by residents during the spring and the top projects were revealed in September

Many of the winning projects in the pilot round of participatory budgeting were related to park, greenway and environmental improvements, including new educational and literacy initiatives in county recreation centers. The county is set to implement them within the next 18 months.


BEST REBRANDING: Housing Collaborative

Formerly known as Social Serve, Housing Collaborative is a local nonprofit organization that aims to tear down barriers and build up people starting where it matters most: at home. 

When the organization was founded in 1999, they operated primarily as an information gateway to affordable housing. Over the years, the organization has grown and so has their mission with a new look and name today that better suits their cause.

Housing Collaborative offers much more than information about affordable housing to Charlotteans, they collaborate with a wide range of people, groups, and organizations across our community to provide flexible, responsive support and resources tailored to people’s housing needs — whatever those needs may be. 

Whether you’re a landlord looking to learn more about how affordable housing works, an organization looking to make a difference when it comes to housing, or an individual seeking housing, Housing Collaborative is a one-stop shop for resources, information and guidance.


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