Housing crisis

Homeless Charlottean sleeps in crawl space as affordable housing crisis worsens

“I want opportunities, to improve. And that won’t happen until I find a place to sleep.

By Sarah Morgan, WBTV

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) — There’s little Will Howard can do to escape the noise of his everyday life. It’s loud, constant, and chaos seems to follow the 57-year-old wherever he goes.

The Charlotte native became homeless when his family home was boarded up two years ago. He not only lost his house, but everything he owned.

“It’s a fight,” Will said as he walked down Beatties Ford Road. “It’s mostly a mental struggle.”

The only peace he gets is when he runs – something he’s been doing since he was a kid growing up in West Charlotte. It’s his way of escaping reality.

Will runs marathons with ease, frequently placing at the top of his age bracket.

Will Howard has been trying for months to find accommodation, but no one will take him.(WBTV)

“It’s what I do to find serenity. It’s the endorphins. It’s just me and the road, Will said.

This serenity is short-lived. Each night, Will strolls through a quaint Charlotte neighborhood near Uptown, newly renovated and expanded historic homes, like so many across the city. But instead of walking through a front door, he climbs into a seedy crawl space under a house.

“My patience is at an end. And I get really frustrated,” he said.

Will is frustrated because last year he went through a lengthy background check and application process and qualified for a federally funded emergency housing voucher, available to the homeless, fleeing domestic violence, human trafficking or being part of other vulnerable populations.

He’s been trying to find housing for months, working with nonprofits like Running Works to call hundreds of rental landlords, but no one will take him.

“I want opportunities, to improve. And that’s not going to happen until I find a place to sleep,” Will told WBTV.

Last year, 70,000 EHVs were granted nationwide to local housing authorities through the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development gave Inlivian, Charlotte’s Housing Authority, 178 EHVs to distribute. And while 74 have been issued, only three are currently in use.

According to Inlivin, 101 applications have been fully processed – and another 30 are awaiting further documentation.

Ray McKinnon, chairman of the board of Inlivian, says the problem is deep and multi-faceted, but their biggest hurdle is supply.

“You have all these people looking for housing, not just affordable, and we can’t keep up,” he said.

According to the City of Charlotte, 32,000 affordable homes need to be built to make up the shortfall, which means that 55,000 people living in Charlotte currently do not have affordable housing.

Kim Graham, executive director of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association and co-chair of the city’s Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization Commission, says those with vouchers are battling potential tenants who come to the table with no strings attached.

“There are people who are qualified, with A-1 credit, who have the income, who have no criminal history and who are always competing with 10 or 15 other people for the same unit,” said said Graham.

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Since landlords have so many tenants lined up, people like Will who need extra paperwork and inspections are often overlooked.

“It’s all the bureaucracy I would say from the housing choice voucher program that tends to be an exit for this rental housing provider,” she said.

McKinnon says they are doing what they can at Inlivian to reduce bureaucracy with the resources they have.

“We have tried to speed up the site inspection and approval process. Of course, we have challenges because of course we are federally funded and we have to follow certain HUD rules,” he said.

Will is tired of hearing promises that aren’t kept. Voucher holders have up to 180 days to find accommodation and Will fears he will run out of time.

Every day something isn’t done means another night Will has to sleep in the crawl space.(WBTV)

“Do something. Actions speak louder than words,” he said.

Every day something isn’t done means another night Will has to sleep in the crawl space.

“It is not wrong to feel forgotten and left behind. And I think it’s incumbent on all of us to fix this,” McKinnon said.

Until the problem is solved, Will will keep running, almost as if trying to catch up with the town that is thriving without him.

“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. Do what it takes,” he said.

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