Wealth serves as a buffer through economic downturns, job loss, and other unexpected emergencies such the COVID-19 pandemic. In Charlotte, households of color are more than twice as likely to lack sufficient savings or assets that can be used to pay for basic needs for three months without income when compared to White households.
The result: almost half of all Latinx and 44% of Black households wouldn’t be able to cover basic needs after three months.
The novel coronavirus is extracting a terrible toll from our society, replete with mind-boggling statistics: A death toll of more than 100,000, 40 million people unemployed, a 95% plunge in airline passengers and so many more.
The losses are immense. Grief is immeasurable. It’s still unclear how far-reaching and deep the economic pain we’re facing will run.
Amidst that, however, the pandemic offers lessons, and opportunities for change. Here are three lessons surfaced by COVID-19 that we should not let fade even after the virus is under control.
Home ownership is one of the key strategies to close the racial wealth gap. A home is where households see gains in equity (market value of home minus any liens attached to property) and is typically the largest asset Americans hold, regardless of race or ethnicity.
But Black and Latinx households have considerably less equity in their homes than White and Asian households. As Richard Rothstein says in The Color of Law, “A home is one of the only assets where the race of the owner affects the rate of return.”
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, news headlines have called attention to both “essential workers” in the food system, such as farmworkers and grocery store employees, and extensive job losses for food system workers, primarily in retail and restaurants. There are requests for contributions to virtual tip jars and for customers to buy gift cards from small businesses alongside fears of food chain disruptions, empty grocery shelves, and virus exposure while shopping. All of this highlights the often invisible precarity of essential workers in the US food system — and the precariousness of the food system itself.
Projects that usually take years are happening in weeks during the coronavirus pandemic: Cities are closing streets to cars, opening public space for sidewalk cafes and investing more in pop-up parks and outdoor amenities.
Planners are responding to a desperate desire for more public, outdoor space, as restaurants, gyms, bars, concert venues, offices, schools and other indoor gathering places remain closed or severely restricted. In Charlotte, city officials have closed about two miles of streets near parks to through traffic, in order to give people more room that’s usually been reserved for cars.
The question, though, as restrictions begin lifting and people crave a return to some kind of normalcy, is whether such changes represent a permanent shift or a fleeting blip in our car-centric culture.
Monday night’s rezoning meeting felt like most Charlotte City Council sessions from previous years, despite the mayor and staff sitting six feet apart and developers battling audio and video glitches in the remote setup.
But even though developers are moving forward with most of their previously announced plans and cranes are still filling in the blank spaces on our city’s skyline with new towers, questions are swirling about what the era of COVID-19 means for the much-touted urban revival.
As unemployment rises and schools remain closed, the coronavirus crisis is highlighting some of the many inequalities in the Charlotte region.
Those problems go beyond the ones we’re familiar with, such as income inequality and patterns of segregation. They point to deeply embedded inequalities in how we’ve built our city and our region, as well as access to key infrastructure.
Like everyone else, the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute team is adjusting to the new reality of working from home and becoming part of a national focus group on consumer preferences for remote conferencing services (after a couple of weeks of sampling, do you now prefer Zoom, WebEx, or Google Hangouts Meet?).
In our effort to stay connected as a team, even the institute’s weekly “research huddle” has gone virtual. It’s a 30-minute “standup” where our researchers provide updates on what they’re working on and share ideas for future research topics. It’s a wonderful time as a director to sit back and marvel at the talent that has been assembled in one team, and to be impressed by their passion to serve the public, even during a time when that public has by necessity turned inward and when it’s not always clear what form our service should take.
Closed bars, restaurants and breweries. Hundreds of thousands of employees working from home while trying to home-school children. Near-empty road and no toilet paper on the shelves.
The immediate impacts from the coronavirus crisis are highly visible. But the virus could have more long-lasting and farther-reaching impacts beyond the immediate unemployment and economic disruption we’re seeing.
Here are five other areas the coronavirus could have an impact on our region.
If there has ever been an object lesson on why housing matters and why we must prioritize providing it for people who don’t have a place to live, this latest crisis should teach us. Charlotte’s homeless population is at particular risk as we collectively adjust to COVID-19.
Work to end homelessness takes on new urgency in a pandemic, for reasons of both personal and community safety. The lack of housing makes social distancing difficult, if not impossible. Many individuals experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to the virus because of high rates of underlying health conditions. A growing number of homeless individuals are over the age of 60. Simple necessities to maintain hygiene and prevent the spread of any infection are not regularly available (it’s hard to wash your hands for 20 seconds if you don’t have a sink).
“For the health and well-being of our community, the University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging social distancing and the postponement of large community gatherings as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Angelique Gaines, a social research specialist at the Urban Institute who spearheads the program. “In adherence to this guidance, City Walks will be postponing its month of walking, biking and munching tours in May. These events will now be planned for the fall. Thank you for your understanding during this time.”
Ads have been running for months, streets are blanketed with yard signs and North Carolinians have cast early ballots, but with Super Tuesday this week, the presidential election officially kicks into high gear locally.
But how many of us will actually turn out to vote? It turns out that the answer depends a lot on where you live. Like patterns of race, income, education and even average lifespan in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, you can see clear geographical differences.
Can philanthropy foster greater regional connection? Yes, according to our research for the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection project. But it’s not just the movement of money that matters, say local leaders: it’s the regional exchange of ideas about how to put that money to work that seems to make a difference.
Today it’s hard for many, especially newcomers, to imagine Charlotte’s interdependency with the small towns and rural communities surrounding Mecklenburg County. But Charlotte’s emergence as a New South city was the result of a manufacturing economy established throughout the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That economy was mostly built on textiles, with its concentration not in the urban core (as was the case with Pittsburgh’s steel industry or Detroit’s auto sector), but in small towns scattered throughout the Carolina Piedmont – where brick textile mills were built along the banks of the South Fork River in Gaston County and the Great Falls of the Catawba in South Carolina, and along the rail lines that stretched in every direction to places like Kannapolis and Hamlet.
Charlotte is a city that loves big plans and heady visions. And since the 1960s, making a new plan for the city’s center has been the most regularly repeated tradition in Charlotte visions. Last week, Charlotte Center City Partners formally kicked off their next planning effort, meant to guide the development of uptown, South End and the neighborhoods just west of Charlotte for the next two decades.
A new program designed to identify solutions for some of the pressing needs and issues of the greater Charlotte region is getting underway this fall at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. For the first time, the Institute has named a cohort of Faculty Fellows to conduct short-term research projects and work alongside community stakeholders to understand and share findings that can guide community decision-making.
With a full-time executive director and a $200,000 grant, a three-year-old west Charlotte nonprofit is accelerating its efforts to stave off displacement with a housing strategy that’s unprecedented in this fast-developing city.
Why do we care about old places, and why should we work to preserve them? A Huntersville native and prominent national preservationist takes a look at those questions through a lens that stretches from Eastland Mall to the historic wonders of Rome.
After visiting a city with a waterfront, maybe stopping for a drink and a bite to eat along whichever river or ocean it’s built along, I’m usually left with one overriding thought: “Wow, Charlotte could really use some of this.” Water plays a prominent role in the design and history of most cities, whether it be a river, bay or ocean. And Charlotte’s skyline and downtown sit tantalizingly close-but-yet-so-far from a major river and lake system. So, the question looms: Why isn’t Charlotte built on the water?
It’s a straightforward question I realized I had never actually asked, despite a decade living in Charlotte. So I called up an expert.
It isn’t quite “Risk” or “Monopoly” or even “Settlers of Catan.” But city officials are using feedback from a new board game called “Growing Better Places: A More Equitable and Inclusive Charlotte,” as they craft the comprehensive plan and unified development ordinance that are meant to guide the next two decades of growth.
You probably have never heard of John Lawson. Scott Huler aims to change that. Lawson was an Englishman and explorer who, over two months in late 1700 and early 1701, traveled almost 600 miles through the Carolinas, including through what’s now Charlotte. His book, A New Voyage to Carolina, recorded the terrain, plants and people he found. It was, as Huler writes, one of the most important early books to emerge from the colonial South.
According to local Point-in-Time Count data, 77 percent of people experiencing homelessness in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care are black. American Community Survey data indicates that only 31 percent of the general population in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is black. This is just one of the major disparities in our local housing and homelessness statistics highlighed by a new tool.
Tens of thousands of people a year are evicted in Mecklenburg County, but the full impact is often hard to see. Court data on evictions is often incomplete, accessible only in paper files, or difficult to compile and access. Demographic data on who is evicted, and for what reasons, is not comprehensively collected. A 2017 project by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and Mecklenburg County sought to change that.
The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute organized a record number of free walking and biking tours last month that highlighted the diversity of Charlotte neighborhoods. The 40 tours took place in neighborhoods such as University City, NoDa, Uptown, South End, Historic Wilmore, Cherry, Belmont, Plaza Midwood, McCrorey Heights, Biddlesville, Commonwealth-Morningside and Historic Camp Greene.
It’s a familiar story: A new transit line opens, spurring gentrification in nearby neighborhoods and pushing out long-time residents.
But is that always what happens? New research from UNC Charlotte suggests the story is more complicated.
Everyone wants to be included and accounted for. This is no different for our homeless population, a group that often feels overlooked and ignored. Charlotte-Mecklenburg is doing their best to remedy this with their annual Point-In-Time Count.
The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute is working with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force to present data shedding light on questions surrounding poverty and economic mobility in our community. This look at poverty facts for Mecklenburg County may surprise you.
Find the story in the numbers. See below to explore facts about Social Well-Being in the Charlotte region. See how the region's counties compare to one another and how the metro area compares to peers around the country.
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Welcome to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute's data portal. See below to explore facts about the Charlotte region from among 11 topic areas, compare your county to the metro region and the state, and explore in-depth data from...
Charlotte's metro has one of the fastest-growing college-educated populations in the U.S. Where exactly do the educated live in Charlotte? As people with college degrees cluster in metros, what does that mean for rural areas? (Graphic: John Chesser)
Population growth in Charlotte has always come with plenty of costs, but rising incomes and prosperity were part of the expected returns. Yet during the recent economic downturn, as population growth continued, economic growth sputtered. (Photo: Nancy Pierce)
Charlotte has lagged much of the country in this period of economic recovery, but the region has finally begun to see a few small signs of better days on the horizon. Over the past several months, there has been gradual improvement in the unemployment rate and home price index in the region. These bright spots are welcome news in a region that continues to suffer the effects of the Great Recession.
This presentation was given at the 2012 Women's Summit, during interactive, hands-on sessions on how to use the Wonmen's Summit Indicator Partner website. The presentation includes an introduction to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, the Charlotte Regional Indicators Project, and the Women's Summit Indicator Partner website.
After the initial windfall of data from the 2010 Census that was followed by media outlets all over the country, the next wave of Census data is upon us. In this new age of the American Community Survey, we now get considerable data more often than every 10 years.
The recession may be officially over, but the financial and social wounds it inflicted continue. As new data released by the Census Bureau this week show, Mecklenburg County is no exception. In 2005, Mecklenburg County's poverty rate was 2 percentage points below the national average and nearly 4 points below the state's. But by 2010, the county's poverty rate was dead even with the national rate.
In June 2010, United Way of Central Carolinas commissioned the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute to conduct a comprehensive community needs assessment for its five-county service area. The primary purpose of the study was to pinpoint the community’s greatest needs and identify gaps in the current...
This series of maps shows the percent of students at each school in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) district that are a racial minority and the percent that applied for free/reduced lunch at two points in time, the 2001-02 and 2008-09 school years. The final two maps show only those...