Mired in Research?

Mired in Research?
February 14
13:36 2023

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series that started last week. To see the first part, go to What are taxpayers receiving from the City of Winston-Salem’s affordable housing research costing almost $700,000? | WS Chronicle.

By John Railey

Last year the Winston-Salem City Council approved $322,000 for an action plan on affordable housing to be drafted by a New Orleans organization, HousingNOLA, which faces serious struggles in its own city in achieving its action plan on affordable housing. See: 2022-Report-Card_10-07-22.pdf ( That funding brought the total Winston-Salem has committed to affordable housing research in the last five years to almost $700,000, without substantial progress being made in follow-up, coordination and data gathering, and, most important, increasing the stock of affordable housing. Here is a summary of those studies, with comments from public officials.

The Enterprise Community Partners report

*In its executive summary, the group said its study centered on a single goal, to “Match current and projected need for production of affordable housing to the supply of stock – strategically integrating preservation, affordability and access throughout Winston-Salem. See:

To meet this goal, the study outlined strategies and related actions that pointed to five main objectives: 1. Increase housing supply to help close current gap 2. Improve maintenance, quality, and overall preservation of housing 3. Create a better balance between housing units produced and actual size of households 4. Prevent displacement of low- and moderate-income residents 5. Increase access to opportunities that are tied to where residents live.”

Enterprise Community Partners recommended several strategies, including partnerships with “locally-based community education and advocacy groups to increase resources available to support affordable housing in the City,” establishing “a review committee to examine Winston-Salem’s … Bonus Density for Affordable Housing ordinance,”  “consider incentivizing mission-oriented developers by deferring development fees until temporary certificate of occupancy is issued,” and “coordinate resources to stabilize housing stock to maximize impact.” 

The study recommended working collaboratively with Forsyth County, including its Homeownership Program, on “regional housing strategies” to “increase the number of first-time homebuyers and repeat homebuyers.” 

One of the most innovative recommendations, echoed in other research commissioned by the city, was that the city explore establishing “a Land Bank as an option to return vacant, abandoned, and possibly tax foreclosed properties to productive use while strategically reducing further deterioration of vacant properties.” Land Banks are publicly funded. 

Paul Norby, a member of the coalition and the retired City-County Planning and Development Services director, wrote in an email, “All Housing Coalition members were given a hard copy of the Enterprise Partners study when we were originally appointed, and we discussed it. I also saw a first draft of their report shortly before I retired in 2018 and made several comments and suggestions to the CD (community development) staff on things I thought Enterprise had gotten wrong or missed in their data analysis … Although I still have some issues with some of their detailed data and analysis (not a lot, but some), I think the Enterprise Partners recommendations are good. I particularly like their overall summary of 5 main objectives for the future, their summary of the existing conditions and projected future conditions, housing development costs, access to opportunity, etc. I also liked their recommended strategies of ‘what’ all can or should be done in the various topic areas to affect availability of affordable housing in the future. I particularly liked their recommendations on land banking … on reforming single family zoning district regulations to allow more variety in housing types allowed, and housing code enforcement.” 

Marla Newman, the city’s community development director, who oversees affordable housing efforts for the city, said in an email: “The initial housing study and needs assessment was just that, an analysis of the then-current housing landscape. While it contained recommendations, each of the areas required a more in-depth assessment, including an analysis of the City’s capacity to implement what was identified.” The city is working toward a land bank, she said.

The Grounded Solutions Network study

In 2019, Winston-Salem began working with Grounded Solutions Network, a national housing advocacy group, “to find innovative ways to promote and preserve affordable, inclusive housing for lower-income residents and preserve existing affordable housing that is at risk of being lost,” according to the Grounded Solutions website. The organization chose Winston-Salem as one of three cities nationwide for its pilot project,  “For Everyone Home: City Solutions for Housing Equity” initiative.       
For two years, a team of city officials and community representatives, joined by Grounded Solutions, did a “needs assessment to identify current and emerging housing challenges, developed policy proposals to address these challenges, and put together a detailed plan of immediate steps the city can take to prevent displacement and promote inclusive, affordable housing,” according to the Grounded Solutions website. See:

Mayor Pro Tem D.D. Adams, a member of the team and the chairwoman of the council’s Community Development/Housing/General Government committee, referred questions to city staff.

These recommendations included creating an affordable housing trust fund, changing zoning law to allow more flexible housing options, establishing a land bank to counter gentrification pressures, and developing an eviction prevention plan. 

The policy agenda and action plan were adopted by the city council in June 2021, according to the Grounded Solutions website. The Affordable Housing Coalition – a commission established by the city council to recommend strategies to meet Winston-Salem’s affordable housing needs – will incorporate the items into the multi-year housing plan it is developing, according to the website.

Newman said the city has taken action, including rezoning and approving parcels of land for affordable housing and approving the purchase of land for that housing. The city council approved the New Orleans consultant for an action plan to support the Affordable Housing Coalition “in identifying and recommending strategies,” Newman indicated.

She noted that the city allocated $600,000 in American Relief Plan Act money for a community housing project for women and their children to be done by a local nonprofit, Honorable Youth, and that city housing staff has been increased. The council also approved “Cottage Court” affordable housing, she said, and approved an affordable housing policy.

The Center for Community Progress study

This study aimed “to help local officials and their partners better understand the systemic causes of and develop local solutions to vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated (VAD) properties …” See:

The study reinforced the land-banking strategy and advocated other reforms, including tax reforms and greater community collaboration.

Newman said, “The work with the Center for Community Progress and Grounded Solutions Network complements and builds upon the other (Community Enterprises) study and were intended to address elements of the housing study recommendations, which also noted that some aspects of the work to be undertaken had to be borne by community partners, investors, and others.”

The Dreamland Park study

According to the study: “… Local data indicates there are 378 existing homes in Dreamland Park with an estimated value of between $15,000 and $60,000. Many neighborhood residents have expressed an interest in rehabilitating their homes … here is a current discussion of additional support for housing rehabilitation from both the state and the federal government. … The recommendation is for the City to track these initiatives and “Consult with the Development Office, a division of the City’s Community and Business Development Department, to identify available City assistance programs … the development of New Historic Dreamland Park is a major undertaking with an estimated cost of over $28 million.”

See: Dreamland Park Neighbor Transformation Plan.pdf.

The Columbia Heights/Skyline Village study

According to the study’s website: “During multiple community workshops and stakeholder meetings, from August 2020 to July 2021, Columbia Heights Extension residents and business stakeholders recognized that redevelopment and revitalization for Columbia Heights Extension would require a bold approach. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCATSU) received approval from Columbia Heights Extension residents and business stakeholders to re-design the entire community and incorporate a mixed-use/income net-zero energy efficient sustainable residential community design approach. This plan is to provide all residents, regardless of income and status, affordable, marketplace, and energy-efficient housing for an enriched quality of life. 

“… the development of Columbia Heights Extension is a major undertaking with an estimated cost of over $50 million. However it is phased, this work will require resources from the City of Winston-Salem.”

See: Columbia HeightsSkyline Village Neighborhood Revitalization Plan.pdf.

The projects requested are in Councilwoman Annette Scippio’s East Ward. She said in an email that the council approved “the plan as a guide for future action. There are no funds or action plans at this time for either community.”

Defending the HousingNOLA action plan

Paul Norby, the member of the Affordable Housing Coalition and retired City/County Planning and Development Services director, said: “Mayor Joines set a goal of 7,500 units of affordable housing over 10 years time (750/year), but from my rough estimate over recent years, there is not even 1/3 of that being produced. So clearly, there needs to be some capacity building in the public sector, non-profit sector, private development sector, and financing sector. That’s why the Housing Coalition, and I as a member, felt that HousingNOLA could help. They had to help organize and carry out a huge rebuilding of affordable housing in New Orleans and had to assemble partnerships of public, private, non-profit, lenders, philanthropic/foundation support, and neighborhood-based entities to scale up the addition of affordable housing at the level that was needed. 

“Their proposal to W-S includes capacity assessment and capacity building with all these types of entities. It includes the engagement of entities like lenders, foundations, NCHFA, non-profits, private developers, CDCs, neighborhoods, housing advocates, and City staff. And more than engagement, the building of capacity to be able to increase the preservation and production of affordable housing to the levels that get closer to the goal that has been set. My sense is that even the City by itself will need to scale up its staffing and financing capacity in a number of areas (code enforcement, land banking and acquisition, housing rehab, homeownership assistance, designing and marketing RFPs for affordable housing development) to adequately support these recommendations. And there needs to be a big scale-up of capacity and/or expertise with non-profits and/or CDCs for them to be able to produce at the levels needed.

“So the ‘how’ is as important to actually getting it done, as defining the ‘what.’ The Coalition did not feel it had the volunteer expertise to figure this out, and we got the sense that the staff at its current levels is overburdened with just administering the programs that it currently has on its plate.”

An effective model

CSEM’s study of the county’s homeownership program, based on the objective gathering of data, established the efficacy of that initiative. For example, CSEM’s findings on 508 program clients found they averaged $50,000 in equity over ten years, with fewer than 8% of homes foreclosed on, while bringing in more than $6.2 million in tax dollars to the county.

As the city proceeds with research on affordable housing from out-of-town consultants, perhaps it would do well to consider time-tested local models, and ways to replicate and expand them through greater leadership from elected officials for the Affordable Housing Coalition and city staff.


John Railey,, is the writer-in-residence for the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (

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