What are taxpayers receiving from the City of Winston-Salem’s affordable housing research costing almost $700,000?

What are taxpayers receiving from the City of Winston-Salem’s  affordable housing research costing almost $700,000?
February 04
08:23 2023

By John Railey

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.

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. 

City Councilman Robert Clark, the lone critic on the council of the spending on affordable housing research, who voted against the HousingNOLA work, said recently, “It is time to implement what has been studied.”

Outside the council, there are other critics. Brice Shearburn, who builds affordable housing, recently said, “Taxpayer dollars have paid for several studies with action items that have met with inaction and inattention. Peer cities of Winston-Salem –  including Asheville, Greensboro, Durham and Cary – are taking the steps proposed in studies and Council on Government staff and are succeeding.” See Housing GSO: HRA Greensboro Affordable Housing Plan ( 

“Sadly, Winston-Salem has more aspiration than action and another study will not make a difference.”

Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) has studied the local affordable, or workforce, housing issue in depth, most notably through its groundbreaking study establishing the efficacy of the Forsyth County Homeownership Program, which has helped hundreds of people obtain homes over the last 20 years, usually their first ones, building their wealth and enriching the county’s tax revenues. See Working Papers – Winston-Salem State University ( The county program, however, receives scant attention in the city’s affordable housing research.

CSEM’s research, its own and its study of the city’s, has established that the core problem is on the supply side: The city must make it more economically feasible for private developers to build affordable housing, including through rapidly reforming regulations and zoning laws and starting initiatives such as “land banks,” by which municipalities invest in affordable housing. With such reforms, existing models like the county’s affordable housing program could meet the needs of many more residents. This means a lot more than an academic argument for the thousands of city residents who continue to rent and live in substandard housing.

The city, however, with $30 million in government ARPA money and other funds for affordable housing, moves slowly. The opportunity to take advantage of low-interest rates for building affordable housing during the pandemic dwindled, even as area prices for affordable houses have climbed well over $150,000. The problem is growing.

Without workforce housing, our core workers, ranging from teachers to police to biotech workers to restaurant servers, will go to more affordable cities. Affordable housing is also crucial for senior citizens and those with mental and physical challenges. To date, however, the city has not done enough to act on the studies for which it has paid hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and involved many hours of time on the part of community participants who devoted their off-work hours.

Supporters of the newest research, that of HousingNOLA, emphasize that it is an action plan, not a study, as compared to the city’s previous research. CSEM, however, has studied the thousands of pages of that previous research, finding that there are many recommendations for action among those pages. One study, by the Grounded Solutions Network, even offered what it calls an “action plan” that Grounded Solutions said the city council approved in June 2021.

The studies were by:

*The consulting group Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. of Washington, D.C. that came out in 2018 and cost the city $136,633.

*Grounded Solutions Network, a nonprofit initiative based in California, at a cost to the city of a matching grant of $75,000. In its study that came out in 2021, Grounded Solutions affirmed some of the recommendations made by Enterprise Community Partners and made several more of their own.

*The Center for Community Progress, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The 2019 study, which cost the city $40,000, was “to help local officials and their partners better understand the systemic causes of and develop local solutions to vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated (VAD) properties,” according to the center’s website.

*In addition to those studies and the ongoing work for the NOLA action plan, studies of two communities in the East Ward of the city, Dreamland Park and Columbia Heights Extension/Skyline Village Communities, were done by N.C. A&T State University and Habitat For Humanity of Forsyth County at a total cost to the city of $120,000. City staff emphasize that these studies, which came out in September, are neighborhood revitalization plans, not specifically affordable housing studies. CSEM finds that the studies offer several recommendations for affordable housing, and therefore figure in the city’s costs for research on affordable housing. Dreamland Park Neighborhood Transformation Plan.pdf Columbia HeightsSkyline Village Neighborhood Revitalization Plan.pdf

Perhaps one reason the studies have continued is because there has not been a strong mandate from city council to city housing staff and the council’s The Affordable Housing Coalition to analyze the research, starting with the 2018 study, and work with the many community members consulted in studies to craft a unified action plan. 

“The ‘what should be done’ is well enumerated, but the ‘who should do it?’ and ‘who should pay for it?’ have not been effectively tackled,” CSEM Director Craig Richardson said.

Councilman John Larson said in an email: “Clearly there have been a number of studies performed but no nails driven into boards to create housing.” He referred specific questions to Mayor Allen Joines and other council members. Joines has often cited the 2018 study, saying last year that 15,000 new affordable housing units, both rental and homeownership units, will be needed over the next eight years.

“We have moved forward in a number of ways,” Joines said in a recent email. “I recommended that the City place $30 million of ARPA and other funds in a separate dedicated fund for affordable housing development and established a goal of creating 750 affordable  housing units per year … We have also used some of these funds to acquire some sizable tracts of land that we intend to work with developers to create affordable housing units. We have provided funding assistance on specific affordable housing  projects …”

The progress has been slow. Some $84.8 million from “various funding sources” has been spent on the development of 531 units of affordable housing from January 2022 to the present, according to city staff, of which the city has committed $18.9 million. These units are contained in 13 projects. Of those projects, eleven are rental properties and two contain homeownership. None of the projects have been completed, and most are in the early planning stages with six having completion dates of 2024 and one of 2025, according to city staff.

Joines also said: “Many of us questioned the need for another study, even though the recommendation came from the Affordable Housing Coalition that I created three years ago.”

Paul Norby, a member of the coalition and the retired City-County Planning and Development Services director, said in an email, “So, why aren’t these different study recommendations enough to just ‘plug and play’ them? Because even though they provide a slew of good recommendations on ‘what’ can or should be done, the ‘how’ needs a lot of work. And given the dozens of good recommendations, there is not currently the capacity in the City, the nonprofit sector, the private development sector, and other stakeholders to be as proactive and productive as these recommendations are advocating. Also, financing resources need to be developed further so the development/preservation/rehabilitation needs cited can be supported when the capacity becomes available.”

Another member of the coalition, Paula McCoy, said in an email, “I don’t really have any answers for your questions but what I do know is that each of these studies focused on different things. Grounded Solutions’ focus was on gentrification, CCP (Central Community Partners) was on vacant and abandoned properties and I believe (though I admit I’m less familiar with this one) the Enterprise (study) helped us understand our housing needs. NOLA is supposed to help us determine how we put all of this research into an action plan.”

Most city council members and members of the Affordable Housing Coalition asked to comment for this story either did not answer or referred this reporter to Mayor Pro Tem D.D. Adams, the chairwoman of the council’s Community Development/Housing/General Government committee. Adams, who often speaks at public events on affordable housing, referred questions to city staff.

Marla Newman, the city’s Community Development director, who oversees affordable housing efforts for the city, said in an email: “As the City continues along the implementation path, we have arrived at a place where the charge of the Affordable Housing Coalition and the community-related stakeholder engagement outlined in the (Enterprise Community Partners) housing study coalesce. HousingNOLA brings the lived experience and expertise to help us all address the questions of how the housing will be built, for whom, where and how it will be financed. That’s an endeavor bigger than the City of Winston-Salem can – or even should – handle on its own.”

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

Next week: What did the previous studies say, and what did the council, the Affordable Housing Coalition and city staff learn from the studies?

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