Sitting in her home on the corner of Allen Street and Parkwood Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood, Sharon Freedman says she’s scared.
“Every time I hear a noise out there, I think it’s going to be the owner or whoever’s coming to knock the place down,” she says.
Freedman, 73, is sitting in one of two reclining chairs in her living room, where mail has piled up since she broke her foot in 2018, making it hard for her to move around. The second chair was meant for her partner of 18 years, Jennifer, who Freedman calls the love of her life. Jennifer passed away from complications stemming from leukemia treatment last year, leaving Freedman to live in the home alone.
She’s lived in the duplex since 2017, when she was displaced from her home on 19th Street in the Belmont neighborhood after that was sold to redevelopers. The man who owned that property found her a new home that he owned on Allen and Parkwood, but earlier this year, the duplex was foreclosed on and bought by Carolina Capital Management (CCM), based in Rock Hill.
Now, Freedman has been told by the property owner that the three-unit complex she lives in is unlivable and will be knocked down to make room for redevelopment. According to Pamela Wideman, director of Charlotte Housing and Neighborhood Services (NHS), the city did not issue an order of demolition, as they would if the house were deemed unlivable.
“We simply issued an order to repair,” Wideman says. “We never issued an order to displace or demolish. That’s the property owner’s decision and quite frankly their right as the property owner. What’s unfortunate is that Sharon is being displaced,” Wideman says. “She’s a low-income earner and a senior, and it happens to be in an area that is gentrifying. It’s totally the property owner’s right, but it’s unfortunate. We don’t like to see it, and it’s most unfortunate for the resident being displaced.”
According to Wendy Sweet, principal at CCM, Freedman was originally made aware that she would have to move out in March, and was given until May 31, then later June 30. Sweet has since given other extensions while Freedman struggles to find affordable housing on her fixed Social Security income.
While the residents in the other two units have found new homes, Freedman has nowhere to go, she says. NHS officials have connected her with resources, but as of the time this article was written, Freedman is still facing a Nov. 10 deadline with no promising leads on a new place to live.
On Oct. 22, Freedman went to court to argue that she should be allowed to remain in her home. She says that, while the judge empathized with her, he told her there was nothing he could do.
Every day, Freedman has been catching the bus to check out leads or researching them online with the help of neighbors who have responded to her recent Nextdoor post looking for help. She recently made her way to the Plaza Terrace apartment complex only to find out that she would need a minimum of $1,200 to move into an apartment that rents for $600 a month. Freedman collects $1,028 in Social Security monthly.
“It’s not like I’ve been sitting and twiddling my thumbs not doing anything,” Freedman says. “I have trouble getting around so I’ve been making a lot of calls. I’d say 99.9% of the time people wouldn’t even call back. For subsidized housing, which is what I need, there are places with waiting lists so long as to be absolutely ridiculous — one year, two years, a lot of places aren’t even taking names because their waiting lists are so long.”
With Charlotte’s population rising dramatically, demand for housing rises with it, and folks like Freedman are suffering the most. Single-use residential housing and duplexes like the one Freedman lives in are targeted by developers who want to turn them into condominiums or apartments that can house many more units, each of which can fetch the same amount of rent that Freedman pays for her home.
While large displacements like the one happening in Lake Arbor get plenty of media attention, and rightfully so, smaller redevelopment projects and subtle rent raises throughout the city have displaced countless Charlotteans in recent years.
Wideman says calls like the one her office received from Freedman have gotten more frequent in the three years she’s been serving as the director of NHS, though she emphasizes that the need for more affordable housing in Charlotte is nothing new.
“It’s important to highlight that there are many more residents like Sharon than we think,” she says. “To the extent that there are property owners who are willing to rent their properties to individuals and families who need affordable housing, that will help us with the affordable housing crisis that we face.”
Those property owners are becoming harder to find. Across Allen Street from Freedman’s home sits a sprawling, two-story home that finished construction shortly after she moved in. It sold for $270,000 in 2017. Across Parkwood Avenue, the old Helton Community Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is already slated for redevelopment.
Freedman, who moved to Charlotte from New York in 1998, has spent most of her time here living near The Plaza and the Belmont neighborhood. In recent years, she’s seen rental rates in the area increase exponentially.
“You just look around, going up Parkwood toward The Plaza, they’re putting up multi-dwelling housing starting at the high $300,000s, that’s what they’re putting up,” she says. “I’m sure when they put stuff up [on this land], it’s going to be that kind of pricing. So it’s like, my crime is being poor. My crime is living on Social Security.”
Sweet says the property has been under contract to be sold since April 2019, and that the developer plans to build multi-family housing that includes affordable units.
Meanwhile, there are still some folks fighting for people like Sharon Freedman in Charlotte.
Last week, local affordable housing organization the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, Inc. (CMHP) marked its 30th anniversary at a time when the need for its services is higher than ever.
Thirty years ago, as urban renewal began to change Charlotte’s landscape forever, few were focusing on neighborhood development. That’s when a civic partnership formed The Housing Partnership, as it’s known for short.
As its described on its website, The Housing Partnership now serves as a private nonprofit and financial organization that’s “organized to expand affordable and well-maintained housing within stable neighborhoods for low and moderate-income families” according to its website.
Over the years, the CMHP has grown and developed a variety of services, such as the Homeownership Center, which provides educational opportunities and financial assistance to area residents and first-time home buyers. This program has helped more than 8,000 people avoid foreclosure and make informed decisions related to purchasing homes.
On Wednesday, Oct. 23, the Housing Partnership held a luncheon to commemorate the organization’s 30-year milestone at the Westin Hotel in Uptown. While they were there to celebrate the past, they also looked to the future.
CMHP President Julie Porter announced the organization’s new five-year goal: to double the organization’s current portfolio of 2,250 affordable housing units in Charlotte by the end of 2023. Porter said she expects that cooperation with the organization’s many partners will help the project come to fruition.
“Our approach is not just expanding the number of affordable units, but determining what we have to do, holistically, for the communities,” she told Queen City Nerve.
Porter said cooperation with the city is also critical. In 2007, the CMHP purchased a large swath of land from the city to transform the Statesville Avenue Corridor. Porter said this project, which involved the rehabilitation of nearly 68 acres of residential land, is a signature project for the Housing Partnership.
Porter said anyone can help revitalize neighborhoods and enhance affordable housing by becoming involved in rezoning conversations and contacting the Housing Partnership to learn more.
As for Freedman, she’s running out of time. When we speak on Tuesday morning, she’s concerned that this latest extension is the last one for her. She faces an uncertain holiday season, with no promising leads on the horizon.
“I’d like to have a place by Thanksgiving,” she says.
Freedman asks that anyone with potential leads for housing email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erika Williams contributed reporting to this article.
This article has been updated to include insight from Wendy Sweet, who could not be reached before the article was originally published.