It is surprising that not everyone shares Housing Authority of Winston-Salem CEO Larry Woods’ enthusiasm for nudging more public housing residents to stand on their own.
He is unabashed in expressing his desire to implement a work requirement for able-bodied folks living on the public’s dime. Woods is not motivated by cruelty or a disdain for the poor – traits far too common in leaders and lawmakers. His concern is for those whose one ambition in life is to make it off the waiting list and into a public housing unit where they may stay and live listlessly for 20, 30 years or more.
It’s incredibly sad that there are young people with such limited life ambitions; it’s sadder that many of them grew up in public housing and were reared by parents who had limited goals as well. It is a cycle that has made far too many dependent on government services and created financial ruin for the agencies providing these services. HAWS, for example, has a waiting list that is more than 120 percent greater than the units it has.
Public housing was once envisioned as a temporary stopping place – something for those who had hit hard times to use until they got back on their feet. If that intended design had held, waiting lists would be moot, for those who pull themselves up would move into homes and apartments of their own, making room for the folks who currently need help.
The Oaks at Tenth, the soon-to-open Housing Authority property near Cleveland Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, looks nothing like public housing. It’s swank, eye-catching and equal to units you’d find in more well-heeled communities in the county. HAWS made the units special for a reason. Those who live there will be required to hold down jobs – a criterion that does not have to be met by those in other public housing units. The Oaks is designed to show the kind of perks that working and self-sufficiency bring. Inquiries about the new units have been overwhelming, and those who do not meet the work requirement aren’t automatically dismissed.
HAWS has a long and successful history of helping residents – those who want help, that is – achieve their goals. The agency offers programs to help residents earn degrees and trade certifications and management and save money. There are other offerings as well, all designed to help residents map a way out of public housing.
Woods has spoken passionately before members of Congress about the Housing Authority’s self-sufficiency programs, advocating that such programs must be a big part of public housing in the years to come. Even with money for public housing and other programs that help the poor becoming more and more scarce, talk of placing any kind of barrier before those who need help is controversial, and it should be.
Too often, the poor are an afterthought and the first to be affected when budgets have to be trimmed. But what HAWS and other agencies are trying to do is a win-win. Residents are given a lifeline – the programs, classes, etc. It is up to them whether they sink or swim. We wish Woods and HAWS success in creating more units like The Oaks. Giving public housing residents such incentives to work and dream will produce great results and truly change the face of government-subsidized housing in this community.