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Davidson’s Grassroots Affordable Housing Program

by | Feb 10, 2022

Davidson is remarkable in so many ways — a compact college town, a bustling village-like core, and it is also one of the rare municipalities with a keen eye to its future.

A quarter-century ago, the town looked at the trends and held meetings to talk about what kind of town it wanted to be. Among the findings was that affordable housing (a phrase hardly ever heard in those days) should be part of the fabric of the community.

When I was chair of the Davidson Housing Coalition, I would admit that sounded like a punchline — Davidson, statistically one of the richest/most real-estate expensive municipalities in the Carolinas, has an affordable-housing agenda.

But Davidson was more forward-thinking than most of our peer cities. In the mid-90s, Davidson saw the tsunami of growth flashing up Interstate 77 from Charlotte and thought it prudent to think about what it wanted to be decades hence. It decided it wanted to preserve the village center, control growth aggressively, be pedestrian- and kid-friendly, and hold to anti-sprawl values. It also put affordable housing on the list, decades before that became a national crisis.

So, the town did something odd — instead of adding a government agency to talk about affordable housing, it set up a non-profit dedicated to the task.

Davidson Housing Coalition raises its own operations money, manages its own properties, and provides free services to educate and assist potential homeowners and renters. DHC now has more than 60 units within walking distance of 2,000 jobs and mass transit connections to tens of thousands more. It has signed agreements to increase that stock by ten percent, with new units in the proposed Hoke property development.

It also operates reduced-cost townhomes on a ground-lease basis where owners can build up equity, and when they move up to something bigger, DHC buys it back at a fair market rate for sale to others who qualify. It serves people who work locally to support town businesses, some disabled tenants, veterans, retirees, and others. It is centered in the town’s fragile West Side, our large and historic African-American neighborhood, that is under increasing pressure toward gentrification.

DHC’s homebuyer education program, offered at no cost to community residents, has served more than 1,300 clients with counseling for housing purchases, credit restoration, debt management, and money-management skills. Since 2012, more than 150 families who completed DHC’s homebuyer education program have purchased homes in Davidson.

DHC works closely with the town in pursuing opportunities, and the town has donated property to DHC that have become affordable housing developments. DHC receives no taxpayer money in donations, but does get underwritten by the town to operate the home and financial counseling program, which is open to all. Any other funds DHC received for construction of new units were from developer fees paid to the town for this purpose.

None of the other five satellite towns of Charlotte have grass-roots affordable housing programs. Nor are there any in the rest of the Carolinas. As far as research has revealed, Davidson is unique in the Southeast among towns our size. I frankly believe we’re unique in the nation in that respect, though I’ve been told some of the ritzy ski-resort towns of Colorado are doing something similar for workforce housing…but I haven’t been able to find any yet.

Thanks to Davidson for remarkable foresight back in the day to address this issue locally. And put it on your list of unique blessings to live in such a place.

Mark Washburn

Mark Washburn is a retired journalist living in Davidson. He was the chair of the Davidson Housing Coalition for two years from 2020-2021. 

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