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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, April 11, 2006. Interview U-0186. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Establishment and activities of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership

Fillette discusses his role in the founding of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership and its activities from the late 1980s into the early twenty-first century. According to Fillette, the Partnership was designed as a "politically acceptable vehicle" to tackle issues related to housing in the county. In particular, the group worked to combine business and leadership in order to attract private investments so that public housing would not have to be entirely subsidized by the government. In addition, the group worked in the area of development, which Fillette demonstrates by describing their work in Genesis Park.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, April 11, 2006. Interview U-0186. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SARAH THUESEN:
You're describing a lot of victories that you had in the mid- to late 70s. Then in the late 80s, you became involved in more housing advocacy work. You were one of the founding board members, am I right, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership?
TED FILLETTE:
That's right, yeah.
SARAH THUESEN:
What led you to become involved in that organization and how did you see at that point the various housing needs of Charlotte changing?
TED FILLETTE:
Well, I think the reason I became involved in it was because it was going to be the politically acceptable vehicle to do more housing work than the Housing Authority of the City of Charlotte could be. I need to explain that. The Housing Authority of the City of Charlotte was just sort of an unpopular political entity, for lack of a better description. It had a huge inventory of housing that was beginning to deteriorate. It had leadership that was not very skillful and was not able to get any good support from the city council. Political support for low-income housing in the Congress was beginning to wane. The budget for HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development] to support the ongoing operation of low-income housing was beginning to decline. It didn't matter which administration was there. HUD was pretty much the whipping boy of every administration. It was getting the worst treatment in all the budget fights and what that meant on the local level is that as the older public housing inventory began to deteriorate, nobody wanted to do anything about it. The people on the city council were not willing to try to put a lot of local money into public housing and so I think a decision was made politically, and I don't know exactly how it was, but to create a new vehicle that would have some business components in it and some other leadership component, and that would try to leverage private money to put into housing that would not have to be totally subsidized, either by the federal government or local governments. So I helped Betty Chafin, who was the key person trying to design this new vehicle, along with the person who was the assistant city manager at that time and later became the city manager, Pam Syfert. She was the other key player in the design of the Housing Partnership. The political theory behind it was get some high-level executives from the banks, from Duke Power, from Piedmont Natural Gas, and a couple of ministers, and you'll have kind of a political Noah's Ark and they will have the credibility to borrow money, do partnerships with private developers, and draw down whatever kinds of federal money was available at that time. Well, about the only federal money that was available after we got operating was the federal low-income housing tax credit deals that were administered through the state department that got the allocation of federal tax credits. But my thought was if we had a vehicle for new housing that would be aimed mostly at first-time home buyers and then to some extent, working-class tenants, that that still was very helpful, because it was still filling a niche in the market that existed, that was pretty much vacant between the subsidized housing at the very bottom and the market rate middle-class rental housing was still completely out of reach for most very low-income tenants. People that were making the minimum wage, were living on disability, couldn't pay market-rate rent at that time, because market-rate rents were five hundred and fifty to six hundred dollars for a three-bedroom apartment. Most people that were our clients had ability to pay at about two hundred and fifty dollars, and so there was this gap of two hundred and fifty to three hundred dollars between what the market provided for decent housing and the ability of even the working-class lowest tenants could pay. So our theory was create a vehicle that can somewhat provide some housing in that gap using a variety of resources, and because this was politically acceptable for the city, they were willing to put two million dollars a year into the budget that would then be used to leverage loans or try to match other capital, like from the federal tax credits. Then the other aspect of this was it could become the development arm for attacking deteriorated neighborhoods that the Housing Authority wouldn't be able to do, wouldn't have the credibility to do. So one of the first projects we took on was the neighborhood adjacent to the Fairview Homes public housing development, this neighborhood that was considered to be probably the biggest drug infestation in the city of Charlotte. It was located between Interstate 77 and Fairview Homes. It was a relatively small, but intensely-populated, low-income, mostly rental property neighborhood.
SARAH THUESEN:
Is this Genesis Park?
TED FILLETTE:
It became Genesis Park. What we did there essentially was go in and buy up the entire neighborhood and convert fourplexes or duplexes into single-family homes that would have four bedrooms and two bathrooms, instead of having two two-bedroom apartments next to each other. We tore down the worst properties and evicted the drug dealers and essentially remade a neighborhood that had been the biggest criminal thorn in the side of the city into a very upbeat, home ownership neighborhood where people could buy a new home with two thousand square feet for forty-eight thousand dollars. It was a huge bargain. Of course, it had to be a huge bargain to attract people. The only people that really were willing to do that were people who were tired of renting and not having any value for their monthly housing payment, no investment. Once you had a few pioneers that would do that and the city assigned community policing to this neighborhood, it was sort of the advent of that program at the same time, that created the sense of security that I think, along with the bargain value, made it a successful project.
SARAH THUESEN:
The [Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing] Partnership was founded in '88, '89?
TED FILLETTE:
Yeah, it started in 1988, but I don't think we hired Pat Garrett until 1989. She was the first director and the only director we've had.
SARAH THUESEN:
And the Genesis Park project was in the mid-90s that that was going on, is that correct?
TED FILLETTE:
I think it started in the early 90s. It was one of the first things. The other neighborhood we did was ironically, the old Greenville urban renewal neighborhood that had been pretty much left dormant. Some of that land was vacant for twenty years after the urban renewal occurred, but we were able to get that property from the city for free and just built new houses with Bank of America Community Development Corporation, was the partner with that. They built beautiful houses, eighteen hundred square feet, for high forties or low fifties, a good bargain, half a mile from downtown.