Sandra Springs can’t escape offers from corporations to buy her home.
In 1989, when she and her husband bought their five-bedroom house in Hidden Valley — a predominantly Black community in northeast Charlotte — it cost them $65,000. After moving there, the couple developed lasting friendships with neighbors and grew to love the community where they raised their family.
Today Springs watches homes nearby her house sell for upwards of $400,000. While it’s not always clear who is buying them, offers at her own doorstep have yet to slow down. .
“I get post cards, letters, and I of course tell them no,” Springs, 68, said. “Then they ask me, do I have any other land or ask if I know anybody else selling their house?”
The attention on Springs’s house isn’t uncommon. Corporate landlords, large and small, own homes at a higher rate in Hidden Valley than across Mecklenburg County today.
As investors have turned their eyes to the neighborhood, residents fear that, like other historically Black communities in Charlotte, Hidden Valley may no longer be within reach, like it had been for so many families decades before. Black homeownership is Hidden Valley’s legacy. Now corporate landlords threaten that.
“There’s been many that have left here already,” Springs said. “They have been older people, which just makes it so sad.”
In Hidden Valley, the state’s largest corporate landlords — Progress Residential, Avenue One and Tricon —currently own about one in 20 homes. That’s roughly on par with their ownership across Mecklenburg County as a whole, according to Security for Sale, a Charlotte Observer and News & Observer investigation into the rise of corporate landlords.
But when accounting for smaller corporations, including local ones, these companies own about 18% or almost 450 of the single-family homes in Hidden Valley. That’s a higher rate than Mecklenburg County, which has about 12% of homes owned by investors, according to an analysis of property records by The Charlotte Observer.
Two of the largest owners in Hidden Valley are Domicilium Warehousing LLC and Sam Dom Charlotte Borrower LLC. Combined, they own 40 of the 2,438 single-family homes in the neighborhood. The neighborhood’s boundaries include North Tryon Street, West Sugar Creek and Reagan Drive and Tom Hunter Road. Both companies are managed by Daniel Simon, of Autryville, North Carolina, per filings listed on the North Carolina secretary of state’s website.
A spokeswoman for DRE Management, which oversees the two LLC’s, said she could not comment but would forward media requests to management.
Early last year, David Howard, the executive director of the National Rental Home Council told The Charlotte Observer companies buying single family homes to convert them to rentals are meeting a market demand.
”Historically, let’s face it: when it comes to housing, there have been two options. You can buy a single-family home or you can rent an apartment,” Howard said. “What our member companies are doing are coming in and saying, ‘Look, you have a third option.’ ”
It feels like a similar story
The heightened attention from outside corporations and investors has neighbors leery of what’s to come, said Charles Robinson, a Hidden Valley resident. It also feels similar to other times in history where Black neighborhoods have vanished.
Charlotte’s urban renewal in the late 1960s caused the upheaval of thousands of Black families living Brooklyn. Some of those families came to Hidden Valley, Robinson said.
But “The Valley” also attracted young Black professionals starting out with families. Today, they are older residents and believe corporations will dramatically change the neighborhood they’ve come to love.
In recent decades, when people bought homes there, they thought they were buying into a neighborhood of homeowners — where families remained for years and built community. Longtime residents say, renters may be more transient than homeowners and are less likely to get to know their neighbors well.
In a place long known as an affordable location for first-time Black home buyers, neighbors are fighting to preserve not only their homes now, but the community’s cultural identity, he added.
“Folks are starting to say enough is enough,” Robinson said. “We’ve been here, we’ve invested and we’re not going.”
Since the 1970s Hidden Valley has grown its reputation as not just an African American neighborhood, but one of the largest African American neighborhoods across North Carolina, said Robert Dawkins, political director at Action NC, a nonprofit that placed the spotlight on corporate landlords.
“That’s been a moderately priced neighborhood for the African American community for decades,” Dawkins said. “It has its own culture and its own concerns.”
Dawkins, who has been an organizer for over two decades, said when people spoke of Black Charlotte two names often came to mind — Hidden Valley and Wilmore. In the late 1990s, Wilmore faced gentrification as investors turned their eyes to the neighborhood near Center City, he said.
Investors bought up the houses and outpriced residents who lived there, according to Dawkins. Today it’s hard to find a house cheaper than $400,000 in the area, he said.
From 2010 to 2020, the number of white residents in Wilmore increased more than 220%, the Observer previously reported. The number of Black residents dropped 40%.
In Hidden Valley, corporate landlords are buying up properties, charging high rents and reducing the number of available homes for families to buy into the neighborhood, Dawkins said.
“It not only displaces the people living there, the people who then move in face prices that keep raising to where they can’t even stay there eventually,” Dawkins said.
Concern over the rising number of corporate landlords owning single-family home in neighborhoods with large numbers of Black owners comes at a time when Black homeownership nationally is declining.
Black homeownership fell in 2022 to 45.2%, down from the 2004 peak of 49.7%, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. In North Carolina, 45.6% of Black households owned their homes in 2020, according to a study by the Urban Institute. This was projected to drop to 43.6% by 2040, the study reads.
A substantial portion of the ongoing decline in homeownership shows there are fewer renters being able to buy homes, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Neighbors are searching for solutions and having discussions to find on legal ways to slow this trend, said Marjorie Parker, president of the Hidden Valley Community Association.
“We have to have some serious discussions as homeowners in Hidden Valley because where does this go and what will this eventually do?,” Parker said.
Other neighborhoods have provided a road map to possible solutions. Avalon at Mallard Creek Townhomes, an 110-unit property, changed its covenant to say owners must live in the home at least a year before renting it out. The neighborhood also placed a rental cap so only a third of those units could be rentals, the Observer previously reported.
Parker said the community association has been weighing similar options. She added neighbors aren’t opposed to change, but it’s sad corporations can buy properties without truly investing back into the community.
“I would like to see the government get involved where if someone has stayed in the house and has been a good renter, there should be some incentive to rent to buy,” Parker said.
Aaron Houck, director of regional policy at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, said the topic of corporate-owned property has become a discussion local, state and national governments are having more in recent years.
“I think there are predatory landlords who own just a few properties or even one property,” Houck said. “Then, there could be corporate landlords who are good citizens and delivering a good, affordable product that people need and rely on.”
People point to corporate ownership as a problem, but it’s more of a symptom of an underlying problem, Houck said.
Demand for housing has outpaced the supply, especially in growing cities, he said. When demand increases and supply doesn’t, prices go up. Investors then see an opportunity for profit with a limited good in need that will only increase in value, Houck said.
Overly restrictive land use policies then become an underlying cause for lack of affordability as they prevent new housing, he added.
But investors eye neighborhoods for varying factors, Houck said. In Hidden Valley, recent investments in the Lynx Blue Line — which runs from from I-485 at South Boulevard to the UNC Charlotte campus — may have caused investors to be attracted to the area, he said.
“I think it’s a fair question to ask whether all neighborhoods and all residents of Charlotte are equally bearing the very real costs of growth,” Houck said.
As investors continue to make their push, Springs hopes to remain in the home her children grew up in. She’s worried the changing neighborhood could continue to push longtime residents out. Springs has considered moving out, but her family’s fond memories keep her rooted to Hidden Valley.
Still, she’s unsure of what a future Hidden Valley may look like.
“We’re still a Black neighborhood,” Springs said. “But as it goes, you may have to say ‘it used to be’, soon.”
News & Observer reporter Tyler Dukes contributed to this article.
This story was originally published January 19, 2023 6:00 AM.