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Q and A with Patrick Graham

by Jennifer Garner

April 6,2007

What unique community need does Crisis Assistance Ministry meet in Charlotte?

As lead agency for emergency financial assistance and home essential items in Mecklenburg County, Crisis Assistance Ministry serves as a key preventive service for homelessness and affordable housing gaps. We live in a prosperous community compared to other cities in our nation. However, ten percent or 80,000 of our population lives in poverty and many others live just above the poverty level. Our city’s lack of affordable housing and a growing service industry that provides lower wage employment continue to drive the need for our services. This past fiscal year (2005-06), Crisis provided over $7.47 million in financial aid and distributed over 692,000 home essential items to 80,000 people in need. The majority of people we serve are employed, but do not make enough money to pay for the rising costs of living in Charlotte or address unforeseen emergencies. Because they lack proper healthcare and other benefits, sickness, death, accidents and a host of other emergency factors make Crisis their only hope to avoid evictions or utility disconnects.

What should Charlotte do to address the housing needs of all of its citizens?

The City of Charlotte must develop and formally adopt an affordable housing plan to meet the needs of its working class citizens. According to a study endorsed by the City of Charlotte, this community will need 17,000 affordable units for those living at 30% medium income and below by 2010. The study proposed many solutions, including increased investment in our housing trust fund, supportive services, public and private partnerships and other strategies. What became evident to all is that affordable housing needs could no longer be addressed in clustered communities. I believe affordable housing should be distributed evenly throughout the community. We must educate individuals to overcome the fear of “not in my backyard” when it comes to mixed income housing. In fact, most studies on mixed income land usage show positive gains in home appreciation and other tangible benefits such as increased educational performance for the entire community. The acceptance of affordable housing will require the public to open their minds to the possibilities and require elected officials to take the necessary political risks to make this community better for everyone.

What are your thoughts about new urban housing that displaces original residents?

We must try to get to a point when everyone has a chance to benefit from newfound prosperity. Gentrification has been a way of life for our urban centers for a while. There are many people who advocate for “grandfather” clauses that will keep tax rates down for long-time residents based on income. Some more well-off members in communities where gentrification is taking place have actually purchased the homes of longtime residents and resold it to them for the costs of renovating their homes. These are examples of policies and private action that exhibit an understanding of the value of letting those less fortunate reap the benefits of newfound prosperity. By pushing former residents out of their current homes and preventing some of those individuals from reaping the benefits of newfound prosperity, we create more of an economic strain on our community.

You are chairing the Diversity Council of the Carolinas. What are your key issues this year?

The Diversity Council’s mission is to provide forums for discussion and give potential remedies for diversity issues within organizations. The Diversity Council of the Carolinas’ theme this year is “Paradox of Diversity: When Unique Communities Come to the Workplace.” Through our theme, we focus our attention on the environmental factors that influence our community’s perceptions and how those perceptions manifest in the workplace. Discussions focused on religion, gender, race, ethnicity, class, political affiliation and other topics that we would consider taboo at the workplace are discussed more frequently. It is difficult for individuals to totally shut off who they are and what they believe in today’s work environment and companies must be prepared to deal with these issues in more sophisticated ways than in the past.

How can Charlotte better address issues of race and class?

Continued dialogue is always important, but it must be followed with action. Our leadership and community must “talk the talk” and then “walk the talk.” The need to discuss issues that differentiate us from one another and focus on our common humanity is always a good start. There are several organizations that facilitate dialogue. However, I would like to see our community develop more action plans with measurable goals. Though dialogue on many social issues may be hard, it is easy in comparison to implementing community wide initiatives that lead to systemic change. In other words, there is a fine line between needed dialogue and too much discussion without sincere action.

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