By Floyd R. Davis Jr.
President and CEO
When I joined Community Link in 2002, I worked each day at a schoolhouse built in the 1920s. That was our office space. Our charge was to help find housing for homeless people in Mecklenburg County. We were a modest organization with big dreams.
Today, Community Link brings hope, information, resources and a place to call home to individuals and families in 16 N.C. counties. We serve our customers at every point along the housing continuum, from homeless to financial counseling to homeownership,depending upon what each customer needs. About 25,000 individuals and families have sought services from Community Link during my two decades here.
I’ve announced my retirement, effective December 31, 2022, as Community Link’s president and CEO. Our able second-in-command, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tameka Gunn, will succeed me in the top spot. You haven't heard the last of me, as I'll continue to lead Community Link's division that builds homes for veterans and other first-time homeowners. But I'm excited to see how our new CEO expands upon all that Community Link has accomplished, thanks to our outstanding staff, volunteers, and donors.
I had served as CEO for four other non-profits, including United Way in Flint, Mich., and Winston-Salem, N.C., when Community Link's board recruited me. I decided to join the organization because of two key developments that revealed how it was poised to reach more people with essential social services.
First was the board's plan to move us to the Children and Family Services Center in uptown Charlotte. At CFSC, multiple non-profits share a building, back-off operations, technology and programming. I immediately saw the opportunity for greater efficiency. Our staff could focus on our mission, rather than administration, and extend our geographic reach.
I'll never forget their joy when our staff saw their modern new offices for the first time. United Way of Central Carolinas, Safe Alliance, which assists survivors of domestic violence, and Care Ring, which empowers lower-income people to take charge of their health, are among the nonprofits located at CFSC.
Second was the board's view that mergers could benefit the agency. Based on my experience leading United Way, I believed nonprofits needed to consolidate. Too many were too small to make a significant impact.
I was eventually able to lead Community Link through several mergers, including with the housing programs for Safe Alliance and the Latin American Coalition. Those mergers enabled Community Link to offer a full program of asset building workshops and financial literacy counseling to customers in 16 counties. We later added foreclosure prevention services in 21 counties.
In 2002, Charlotte had plenty of affordable housing, with property managers and landlords willing to accept our customers without hesitation. Rents were reasonable. We provided financial assistance through rapid rehousing programs from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). By subsidizing rental payments for up to 18months, we could help customers re-build their lives.
Since then, the cost of housing here has soared. Many affordable housing units have been demolished and replaced with luxury apartments. Wages for service-sector employees have not kept pace. People who could afford to live in Charlotte when I moved here 20years ago can't afford it now. Our homeless population has grown.
Community Link’s job has gotten more challenging over time. But we continue to identify housing options, subsidize rents, and provide additional services to walk alongside customers who are homeless or insecurely housed as they find stability again. Many are single mothers. Community Link can change their lives.
Our social workers now work remotely in their communities, which positioned us well for virtual services when the pandemic struck. Community Link has become part of the region's conversation on how to solve affordable housing crisis. We are also leaders in training lower-income individuals and families how to build their assets, accumulate wealth, and learn how to become homeowners.
In 2005, I discovered that lower-income taxpayers were missing the opportunity to obtain substantial refunds on their tax returns. More than $6 million in earned income tax credits were going unclaimed in Mecklenburg County alone. Community Link lead an effort to start an IRS program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance with volunteer tax preparers. This year, the average refund for our customers was $1,642, providing essential funds for housing and other needs.
It's been my privilege to serve Community Link for the last 20 years and watch it become an indispensable force for good in the region. May it thrive for many more, serving customers from homeless to homeownership, every step of the way.