Crystal Towers sale would displace 200

Crystal Towers sale would displace 200
August 23
05:00 2018

Crystal Towers, an 11-story public housing apartment building for seniors and those with disabilities, is up for sale.

The high-rise on West Sixth Street was built in 1970 and has approximately 200 residents. It’s owned by the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, whose board approved the sale last week. HAWS says that the building’s more than $7 million in repairs is more than it can afford. A Request for Offers is open from Aug. 20-Oct. 15. HAWS has the right to reject any offer and any sale would need be to approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If the sale is approved, HAWS will offer Crystal Towers residents the option of moving into a one-bedroom unit at one of HAWS’ properties or a voucher for a one-bedroom unit in privately owned rental housing, which could also be used outside the city and in other states as well. If residents use the voucher and their rent doesn’t cover water, electricity and gas, then they would receive a monthly check to cover that. HAWS will cover moving expenses, including hiring a moving company.  No sale will be finalized until all residents are relocated, which may take about a year.

HAWS Executive Director Larry Woods said the proceeds from the potential sale and replacement dollars from HUD will go to create three or four smaller developments with 40 to 50 units that’ll be located on transportation routes that give residents access to food, medical care and other resources.

There is no requirement that the site be used for affordable housing or even residential purposes. Some say removing a development with predominately African-American residents from downtown is gentrification, but Woods said that it’s for the good of the residents there and those who live at other HAWS properties.

“This is something we have considered over the last three to four years. This was the last option that we had,” said Woods. “We’re not selling this building to gentrify the area; we’re selling the building because we can’t continue to maintain the building at a loss without injuring other properties.”

Woods said HAWS has been taking funds from other properties to maintain Crystal Towers. He said funding from HUD has been declining over the years and any major grants HAWS got to replace other properties “have long since dried up.”  He said there was no major HUD grant available for the repairs and it’s not possible for them to get a loan for that property.

“We have not tried to go through the city because it would require at least $7 million and that site, the revenue stream is not able to support any type of debt service,” said Woods.

Woods said Crystal Towers’ needed renovations include the elevators, electric switch gear room, drainage lines, fresh air handler for the commons areas and resurfacing the roof. The units need replacements for kitchen cabinets and appliances, flooring and through-the-wall air conditioner systems.

“We think we can do better, and we think them finding more suitable accommodations is the best route,” said Woods

Crystal Towers is one of three high-rise towers built for the elderly using a $5.6 million HUD loan from 1968. Woods said that Sunrise Towers on Martin Luther King Drive, which was also built in the early ’70s, is in slightly better condition and Healy Towers, built in 1978, is “holding its own.”  There are no plans to sale the other two buildings.

Woods held a meeting with residents of Crystal Towers to inform them of the plans to sell their building. He said there were no major complaints and most just wanted to know how soon they could get their vouchers.

Opinions on the sale varied among residents The Chronicle talked to last week. Some didn’t like it, such as one 77 year-old woman, who didn’t want to give her name, who said she enjoyed her 17 years of living there and didn’t want to move.

But most were OK with moving because of the condition of the building. Multiple residents listed issues with bedbugs and roaches, ceiling leaks and constantly breaking elevators. Maintenance can sometimes take a week or two to respond to issues in individual units.

“It’s got a whole lot of issues,” said Paul Hill, who has lived there for nine years.

He said it was a “rigmarole” when the elevator regularly breaks on the weekends, creating long waits for the only other elevator in the 11-story building. He laughed when asked if he minded moving.

“Not really at all,” he said. “I just have to find a better place to go.”

Berlinda Baker-Benjamin, who has lived there eight years, felt moving would work out for residents.

“I think it’s going to be good because they’re going to help us find housing elsewhere with a voucher, so no one will become homeless,” she said.

When asked if she felt selling the building was gentrification, she said “yes” because it was

eliminating public housing in an area with condos that no one there can afford or, as she put it to one resident, “Out with the poor and in with the rich.”

“They’re getting rid of the older, poor people and bringing in newer, younger people that have the income with better paying jobs and benefits,” she said.

Though HAWS is not a part of the city government, several members of the City Council expressed concern about the sale. City Council Member James Taylor, who is also The Chronicle’s publisher, said he opposed the sale.

“I think it disenfranchises those who might be senior citizens, those who might be disabled,” he said.

The City Council General Government Committee plans to hear from HAWS on the matter in a future meeting.

City Council Member Jeff MacIntosh, who represents the Northwest Ward that contains Crystal Towers, told The Chronicle that he hadn’t been contacted by residents of Crystal Towers, but had heard from others who were concerned about a possible reduction in affordable housing units. He said he believes the building’s residents will find better housing and he’s been assured by HAWS that they’ll try to replace as many units as possible.

“If you were going to build 200 units of affordable housing today in 2018, you wouldn’t build Crystal Towers,” said MacIntosh. “That facility is a failing facility for what it is intended for, so if they can take that money and reproduce those units in a more modern sustainable way, I think that’s great.” 

Nationally, public housing units are on the decline and vouchers are on the rise. HAWS manages approximately 1,400 affordable rental units and administers approximately 4,500 housing vouchers.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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