An Achilles' Heel In Charlotte's Housing Market

Charlotte, N.C., has one of the nation's strongest housing markets. But some neighborhoods in the city have been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. For example, Peachtree Hills is faltering as banks take over properties and vacancies rise. But people there aren't waiting on legislation to rescue the subdivision.

Janice Whitaker takes a lot of pride in her suburban Charlotte home, where she has lived for seven months. Small replicas of sculptures sit on her polished coffee table and each cushion on her couch is arranged just so.

"People would probably be surprised if they saw inside how nice these houses are," Whitaker says. "I love my house — you can see it's beautiful."

This is a place where families could buy their first homes. But in a familiar national story, mortgage lenders handed out risky loans and buyers took on more home than they could afford. Now, nearly a quarter of the 150 homes in this neighborhood are in foreclosure.

Whitaker's house is nice, but the rest of the Peachtree Hills subdivision looks older than its five years, with ragged lawns, boarded-up windows and scrawny playground equipment.

Shortly after Whitaker closed on her house, she found a bullet hole in the front window. Immediately, she started thinking about putting the house on the market.

"Before the week was over, I called the realtor and told her we couldn't stay here," Whitaker says.

Whitaker is not at risk of default, but her home is now one of 20 on the market in Peachtree Hills. And there's more to come.

Just a few doors down from Whitaker's house, Richard Payne, with the Durham, N.C.-based nonprofit Self-Help, wedges another real estate sign into dry soil. He says much is riding on the sale of this home.

"We think right now it's at a tipping point where the housing values will drastically decrease and it will become a very blighted area," says Payne. "But it's not quite there. So we're trying to get in and stabilize the situation. Keep the grass cut and lights on is the motto of the program."

Self-Help plans to spend $2 million to buy 25 homes in Peachtree Hills. The idea is to rehab the houses and either sell them outright or rent them to people who, with financial counseling, can eventually take over the mortgage. Self-Help has the support of the City of Charlotte as well as several other nonprofits.

Similar experiments are under way in Ohio, Rhode Island and Virginia, but on a smaller scale.

Just one prospective buyer has looked at Whitaker's house. But she has grown accustomed to the neighborhood's struggles and its potential. With the changes coming, she says staying here might be the best thing for her and the community.

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