Where Do We Stand: Housing – A Spotlight on St. John’s Place

An interview series about East Side Issues

By Helene Hilger

Pamela Jefsen,
Executive Director of
Supportive Housing Communities

I recently sat down with Ms. Pamela Jefsen, Director of
Supportive Housing Communities (SHC), to hear about the
innovative housing program coming to East Charlotte and
discuss affordable housing initiatives in general. Her agency
(http://supportivehousingcommunities.org/) works with the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Homeless Services Network to help
people find and stay in permanent housing. SHC recently
invested $1.3 million to buy and renovate St. John’s Place,
an apartment complex near Harris Boulevard, that was
unsightly and in disrepair.

After the renovations, existing residents may remain in their
apartments; formerly homeless residents will obtain stable
housing; and SHC will provide maintenance, staff, inter-
agency coordination and volunteers to help residents
succeed. The St. John’s Place project is being heralded as an
example of ways in which communities can serve their
neighbors in need while enjoying the benefits of a more
attractive building and safer environs.

Ms. Jefsen acknowledged that the East side’s positive response to the St. John’s purchase speaks
well of our community culture. She noted that it contrasts with what she has seen in other county
sectors, explaining that other city sectors often rebuff affordable housing proposals based on pre-
conceived ideas of what their new neighbors will be like; fear of what the property will look like;
and fear of a project’s effect on nearby property values. However, she was quick to point out that
such is not always the case, and some neighbors welcome the diversity that an affordable housing
project might bring.

I explained that the East side is already quite diverse, and we are constantly striving to stabilize and
increase our economic base. Our income demographics need to be strong if we are to attract new
businesses. Ms. Jeffers concurred, recognizing that that in general, it makes sense that any
affordable housing added to the East side come as part of mixed income housing initiatives that also
include strong educational components. She cited the new Renaissance West Community Initiative
(http://www.rwci.org/ ) that combines housing, schools, and community services as a model. The
aim should be to ensure that the economic base of a sector remains stable or improves when
neighborhoods are asked to share in hosting those among us who are most in need.

I asked Ms. Jeffers if the economic stability impacts of host neighborhoods are considered when
affordable housing locations are considered by the various agencies and governing bodies that
deliberate about their siting. She said that typically was not the case, and that it would be up to us
(the East side) to make this case for ourselves. Ms. Jefsen applauded our strong East side ethic of
advocacy for neighborhoods, schools, and economic development and felt confident that we could
have a voice in such decisions. She believes such neighborhood advocacy is important, saying “You
can only advocate for your own neighborhood – it is where you have the most credibility.”