Homeless Charlottean sleeps in the crawl space as the affordable housing crisis worsens

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

By Sarah Morgan, WBTV

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) – There are few things 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’s every step.

The Charlotte native was left homeless when his family’s home was condemned two years ago. He not only lost his house – but everything he owned.

“It’s a struggle,” Will says as he walks down Beatties Ford Road. “It’s mostly a mental battle.”

The only calm he finds is when he runs – something he’s been doing since he was a kid growing up in West Charlotte. This is how he escapes from reality.

Will runs marathons with ease and often places at the top of his age group.

Will Howard has been trying to find a place to live for months, but nobody wants him.(WBTV)

“I do this to find peace. It’s the endorphins. It’s just me and the road,” Will said.

This serenity is short-lived. Each night, Will walks through a quaint neighborhood of Charlotte near Uptown, historic homes that are newly renovated and expanded, like so many around the city. But instead of going through a front door, he climbs into a dingy 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 shelter voucher, which is available for homeless people fleeing domestic violence, human trafficking, or who are part of another vulnerable population.

He’s been trying to find an apartment for months, working with nonprofits like Running Works to call hundreds of rental homeowners, but no one picks him up.

“I want opportunities to improve myself. And that won’t happen until I find a place to sleep,” Will told WBTV.

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

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development gave Inlivian, the Charlotte housing authority, 178 EHVs for distribution. 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 additional documentation.

Ray McKinnon, Inlivian CEO, says the problem is deep and multifaceted, but the 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 housing units will need to be built to make up the deficit – meaning 55,000 people living in Charlotte currently have no 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 fighting potential renters who come to the table with no strings attached.

“There are people who qualify, who have A-1 credit, who have the income, who don’t have a criminal background, and are still competing against 10 or 15 other people for the same unit,” Graham said.

» Related: Renters in Charlotte apartments facing steep increases in renewal prices

Because property owners have so many tenants, people like Will, who need extra paperwork and inspections, are often overlooked.

“It’s all the bureaucracy that I would say about the home choice voucher program that tends to be a turnoff for this rental home provider,” she said.

McKinnon says that at Inlivian they are doing what they can to cut through the bureaucracy with the resources at their disposal.

“We have tried to expedite the process of inspecting and approving sites. Of course there are some challenges that we have because of course we’re federally funded and we have certain rules that we have to follow from the HUD,” he said.

Will is tired of hearing promises that don’t come true. Voucher holders have up to 180 days to secure accommodation, and Will fears he’s running out of time.

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

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

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

“It’s not wrong that he feels forgotten and left behind. And I think the responsibility lies with all of us to solve this problem,” said McKinnon.

Until the problem is solved, Will keeps running, almost as if he’s trying to catch up with the town, which is thriving without him.

“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. Do the right thing,” he said.

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