Crystal Towers saga continues while fate of 200 residents remain in limbo

Crystal Towers saga continues while fate of 200 residents remain in limbo
February 10
13:37 2021

In 2018 the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem (HAWS) announced the sale of Crystal Towers, the 11-story building that houses low-income senior citizens and individuals with disabilities, and almost immediately people from across the community raised concerns about where the residents would go. While the sale of the building still hasn’t been finalized, HAWS has been busy working on ways to relocate the 200 residents who currently call Crystal Towers home. 

Here’s a recap of the ongoing Crystal Towers saga: In August of 2018, HAWS reported that the high rise located at 625 W. 6th Street, needed more than $7 million in repairs and as a result, HAWS Board of Commissioners voted to approve the sale of the building. In March of 2019, The Chronicle reported that HAWS had made a decision on a buyer, but the contract had not been signed because the sale has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

When asked about Crystal Towers earlier this week, Kevin Cheshire, executive director of HAWS, said they are still waiting on approval from HUD and that there will be no transfer of ownership until every resident has been permanently relocated. 

He said HAWS is in the process of hiring a “mobility specialist” to help residents find housing. 

“The biggest thing is making sure we get a mobility specialist to work with all of the Crystal residents,” Cheshire said. “In the event that the disposition request is approved, we would have our mobility specialist work with all the residents in an intensive manner to try to ensure that we locate comparable alternative housing. Our primary objective first and foremost is that nothing proceeds with respect to the sale until we are 100% convinced that 100% of the Crystal Towers residents have comparable alternative housing.”

Because Crystal Towers is an income-based property, tenants are required to pay 30% of their gross adjusted income and HAWS provides a subsidy for the rest of their monthly rent. Once the sale is finalized, residents can either relocate to another HAWS property or use a housing voucher to get an apartment on the private market.

Cheshire said HAWS will leverage 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. 

 “It’s going to be highly unlikely that we’re going to be able to replace all 200 in what is currently considered as the downtown core, but we do think that it’s realistic that all 200 will eventually be replaced in what will eventually be considered the downtown core,” Cheshire continued. “We’re losing 200 hard units. Now those individuals aren’t losing their housing, we’re going to make sure all 200 residents have housing. But we realize that bricks and mortar are being lost and we’re going to try to build back as many of those units as possible … so while we’re not building back 200 immediately, we’re building back what we think is a critical mass and we’re putting them in a mixed-income environment where we’re not warehousing low-income families, but we’re putting those low-income families next to market rate residents or less subsidized units in a mixed-income model.” 

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

In 2012 HAWS used funding from the HOPE VI grant, which is offered by HUD, to revitalize the former Happy Hill Gardens public housing site. The new neighborhood is comprised of 272 rental units and 148 homeownership units, including single family homes, apartments and town homes. Cheshire said he is scheduled to meet the director of the HOPE VI program next week to talk about ways to continue development in Happy Hill.

According to Cheshire, the housing authority is also looking at purchasing private properties east of Highway 52. He said, “There are potential acquisition targets in and around the downtown core that we would be very interested in. Whether that be an acquisition and a rehab or an acquisition and a demolition and a rebuild, or simply an acquisition and the attachment of a subsidy to ensure that we have a mixed income model, I think all of those are on the table.”

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.

“There’s a new HUD secretary, there’s obviously new priorities, so the initial iteration of this application process and HUD’s analysis was undertaken under the old administration and now under the current administration, I think  we’re going to have to go through a similar process. I don’t know that and I haven’t been told that, but that’s what we’re anticipating.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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