As a little girl, Pam Wideman ’06 MPA spent hours assembling jigsaw puzzles. She loved watching the full picture emerge from all the little pieces. Now, as director of Housing and Neighborhood Services for the city of Charlotte, Wideman is tackling her most challenging puzzle yet: Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis.
“I like solving problems, and I look at affordable housing as a puzzle,” Wideman said. “Neighborhoods are the building blocks of any city, and it’s my job to create thriving, mixed-income communities where people of all ages, races, economic backgrounds can live and access opportunity.”
In 2014, a national study ranked Charlotte last among the 50 largest U.S. cities in economic mobility, citing family instability and affordable housing as central factors.
While the study shined a spotlight on the city’s affordable housing issue and others, Wideman recognized an opportunity to leverage public awareness to make a difference.
“We cannot remain comfortable with the notion of haves and have-nots. I think we’re better than that,” she explained. “If we pool our resources, we can overcome being known as the city ranked 50 of 50.”
‘House of Help’
Wideman’s childhood seemed to provide the perfect foundation for her career aspirations. She was raised by altruistic parents who instilled in her the value of helping others.
“My parents were always helping people in our neighborhood,” Wideman recalled. “They believed that no man is an island, and we need one another. I knew my calling at an early age.”
As Wideman embarked on a career in public service, she drew inspiration from the activist Marian Wright Edelman, whose teachings about service and approach to social justice resonated.
“She reminds me daily that service is the rent we pay for our time on Earth–and that we are here for each other,” Wideman said. “Personally, I feel that I’m at my best when I’m helping someone.”
Sitting at the table
While Wideman strives to help improve the lives of Charlotteans, she finds herself reflecting on her own good fortune.
“My education has opened so many doors for me,” she said. “Working in the public sector, I knew I’d need a graduate degree to earn a seat at the table and begin to make a difference.
“UNC Charlotte’s MPA program gave me confidence to know that I belonged at that table. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made,” she added.
Wideman credits her education as integral to her success and upward mobility. She feels a responsibility to ‘pay it forward’ for the next generation.
“My department oversees the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance and Youth Employment Program,” she said. “It’s important to work for our youth so they can pursue careers that lift them to where they want to go.”
Investing in a solution
As the city grapples with its affordable housing crisis, Charlotte continues to rank among the fastest-growing cities in the nation, a factor that accelerates the need to address the problem. Voters recently passed a $50 million affordable housing bond aimed at doing so.
“It’s the largest amount in the city’s bond history,” Wideman said. “It shows the commitment of the community to prioritize this important issue.”
While the recent bond decision gives Wideman hope, she acknowledges that solving Charlotte’s affordable housing dilemma requires continued community engagement as well as a larger financial commitment moving forward, especially as the city continues to grow. Many large corporations and nonprofits have begun to step up with substantial financial investments, providing additional pieces of the larger puzzle.
Meanwhile, Wideman will continue her work in bringing together members of the community, nonprofits, corporations and others who are committed to piecing together a complex solution to affordable housing in Charlotte.