In the four months I have lived in NoDa, my impressions of the recent condo boom and urban revitalization have become increasingly confused. On one hand, I admire the civic and corporate investment this new urban community has created. But as much as I enjoy the interesting restaurants and cool bars, I understand that this vibrant commercial district is pricing out the very people who made the communities unique.
I am not picking on NoDa, but I can't help but wonder how long it will continue to be the organically artistic neighborhood it's billed as before it falls victim to professionals and real estate companies looking to capitalize on the incredible investment returns.
In the course of three years, areas such as NoDa, Wesley Heights and Wilmore have gone from the very definition of poverty to places where a house once labeled a "ghetto shack" is now on the market for $500,000. The dynamics are rapidly changing, with someone at or below the poverty line residing next door to a remodeled home that is inhabited by a professional making $200,000 a year.
Neither side has any more rights to the neighborhood over the other, as we are living in a self-described free market. But undoubtedly we all know where the collective power falls in this oft-repeated equation. You can't blame the professional for making a shrewd investment, but how can we better account for the impact the unintentional or intentional gentrification is having on our communities?
In as little as five years, it is possible that NoDa will be nothing more than a smaller version of Ballantyne, with many of the artists who called the place home no longer able to afford the increased rent, nor the inflated prices of the real estate in the area. The staples of the neighborhood will continue to thrive, but I believe the eclectic nature of the environment will dissipate for a mass-produced version of itself.
In what can only be described as shameful, the abrupt condemnation, the convenient pending sale of Mecklenburg Mills, and the sure development of real estate serves as the straw that will soon break the camel's back. NoDa's gentrification isn't a new concept -- it was preceded by the slow gentrification of Earl Village (1st Ward), Wilmore and (soon to be) Wesley Heights.
The fundamental question we must face in this city is how to maintain access to affordable housing for those who need it. Congress has assured us that wages are not increasing anytime soon, but the price of real estate in Charlotte most surely is rising.
What can we do? It's simple: Advocate responsible development through thoughtful analysis of the zoning for residential real estate and new development in already fragile neighborhoods.
In NoDa, we must actively address the need for commitment to providing affordable housing. Situations like the sale of Mecklenburg Mills leaves room for the city to be portrayed less as a holder of public trust and more as another real estate investor. We need to investigate more opportunities to influence community developers to offer affordable housing. Professionals and real estate owners and investors also must understand that we play an active role in maintaining the sanctity of the community in which we have invested.
Decker Ngongang, a native of Charlotte, is a financial professional and committed citizen.