City Council asks HAWS not to sell Crystal Towers

Members of the City Council asked the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem not to sell Crystal Towers.

City Council asks HAWS not to sell Crystal Towers
September 13
09:10 2018

Members of City Council asked the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem not to sell Crystal Towers during its General Government Committee meeting on Tuesday.

HAWS is not a part of city government. The city has no involvement with Crystal Towers, a public housing high-rise on West Sixth Street for seniors and those with disabilities. However, City Council members say the sale of the building has caused widespread concerns in the community, and they offered to help HAWS find another solution for the building, though no specific plans were given during the meeting.

The 11-story building, built in 1970, needs than more than $7 million in repairs that HAWS can’t afford with its dwindling funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HAWS Executive Director Larry Woods said constant, expensive repairs and upkeep of the aging facility is drawing on funds HAWS needs to maintain its other properties. He said rather than put other properties at risk, HAWS’ board voted to put the property up for sale.

Woods said the living conditions in the building are also substandard. He repeated residents’ complaints about bedbugs and roaches, leaks and constantly breaking elevators. If the building is sold and HUD approves the sale, the approximately 200 residents there can either relocate to another HAWS property or use a housing voucher to get an apartment, either locally or outside the city, on the private market for the same rent as what they’re paying now, which would include utilities. Their moving costs will also be covered. Woods said most residents didn’t have objections to moving because of the building’s condition.

“It will look bad that the only one downtown is now gone, but we have to wrestle with the humanity of the tenants there,” he said.

He said money from the sale will go to build more modern affordable housing at sites HAWS has yet to determine. The best use of the Crystal Towers site, which he hopes will include affordable housing, would be considered in the purchase offers HAWS receives.

City Council Member James Taylor, who is also The Chronicle’s publisher, said that even though it may not be intentional, the result of the sale would be gentrification. He said it would be a historic mistake to sell the building, comparing it to the construction of U.S. 52, which had devastating effects on black neighborhoods and divided them from the largely white neighborhoods on the west side of town.

“Downtown is the living room of Winston-Salem and if these people can’t live downtown, what message are we sending to the people of our community?” said Taylor.

He said HAWS needs to look for other options, like private partners or a partnership with the city that could save the building. This was a sentiment shared by City Council members Dan Besse, Derwin Montgomery, John Larson and Denise “DD” Adams, with Adams adding that they would need to ensure the health and safety of residents there if they were to help maintain the building.

Montgomery, who chairs the General Government Committee, and is also one of The Chronicle’s owners, said that the residents living in the 203 units at Crystal Towers would occupy 203 units in other parts of the city, causing a large decrease in available affordable housing.

“It is going to send a larger ripple effect in this community that is going to have negative impacts on agencies and organizations who are trying to make sure people have housing,” he said.

City Council Member Jeff MacIntosh, who represents the Northwest Ward that contains Crystal Towers, said it was  a “failing building” but that the sale is still a textbook case of gentrification, leaving HAWS in a very difficult position.

“What’s the greater evil, sacrificing your mission of serving as many people as you can on the budget that you have or the very public black eye of causing gentrification?” he said.

Woods said that maintaining the building would require an escalating permanent subsidy on a federal property, which he felt would’ve been  “irresponsible” for him to ask for from the city. 

Montgomery said he hoped the city can work with HAWS to address the issues facing Crystal Towers with the poor conditions there and the potential loss of affordable housing units.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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