Crystal Towers residents plead: ‘Save our homes’

Crystal Towers residents plead: ‘Save our homes’
August 12
11:30 2021

The residents of Crystal Towers have called on the City of Winston-Salem to use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to make repairs to the 11-story public housing development located on West Sixth Street. 

During a press conference held outside the building last week, residents and members of the local activist organization Housing Justice Now talked about the dreadful conditions inside the building, including rodents, roaches, bedbugs, faulty equipment, and little to no communication with management. In response they are asking the City of Winston-Salem to step in and spend $7 million to make repairs to the building. 

Crystal Towers is a public housing unit for seniors and those with disabilities and it’s maintained by the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem (HAWS). HAWS announced the sale of the building located at 625 West Sixth Street, citing the need for $7 million in repairs as the reason for the sale. A year later, The Chronicle reported that HAWS had made a decision on a buyer but they were waiting on approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

Since then, Mayor Allen Joines and several members of the city council have said they don’t approve of the sale because it would displace 200 people and reduce affordable housing opportunities in the downtown area. Phillip Carter, president of Housing Justice Now, said they received a letter from Councilmember Jeff MacIntosh saying the sale of Crystal Towers was textbook gentrification. 

“We’re hoping that he still feels the same way and that he will join forces with the mayor and other council members to come up with the money needed to make repairs to the building,” Carter said.

Residents and their supporters suggested that the city use funding they received from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this year, to make the repairs. The city is expected to receive $51 million in ARPA funding. 

Carter also suggested that the city make the repairs over time instead of spending $7 million at one time. “It all doesn’t have to be done at one time and that’s why we believe the city should provide the funding to repair this building so the residents can continue to live in this community,” Carter said. 

When discussing the sale of Crystal Towers, Kevin Cheshire, executive director of HAWS, said there will be no transfer of ownership until every resident has been permanently relocated. Once the sale is approved, HAWS will offer residents the option of moving into another one-bedroom apartment at another HAWS location or a voucher for a one-bedroom apartment, which can be privately owned or outside the city or state.

In February Cheshire said HAWS planned to use some of the proceeds from the sale to create about 90 mixed-income multifamily replacement units in the downtown area, including 40 that will be true replacement units for residents from Crystal Towers. HAWS is expected to repurpose the Lowery Building (current HAWS central office) for the new units. The space is also expected to include retail space on the ground floor. 

HAWS is also considering using a portion of the proceeds from the sale to jumpstart stagnant redevelopment in the Happy Hill community. 

No timetable has been set on when HAWS can expect the sale to be approved. Since there have been changes in administration since the original paperwork was filed with HUD, Cheshire said, “Honestly, I don’t know where HUD is on this now, given the change in administration.”

Following the press conference last week, tenants and members of Housing Justice Now had a meeting with Mayor Joines in the lobby of Crystal Towers. Kathy Holland, who has called Crystal Towers home since 2018, said she wants to see the mayor take a tour of the building.

“I challenge the mayor to walk through the building … there’s rats, mold, rust, leaks … the elevator is full of roaches right now,” Holland said. “Don’t just come into the lobby where they’ve cleaned everything up, really walk through the building and see the conditions we’re being forced to live in.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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