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Wake Forest Students Cover Downtown Winston-Salem

Affordable Housing Downtown and Beyond on Top of the City Council’s Agenda

Affordable housing has dominated this month’s city council meetings, with two projects being supported, one in the Northwest Ward and one in the Southwest Ward. But for council members who worry about affordable housing, these two projects don’t address the lack of affordable housing downtown, which will worsen with the possible sale of Crystal Towers, a downtown high rise that serves low-income elderly and disabled people.

“We need to address affordable housing,” said Dan Besse, the councilman from the Southwest Ward. “To deal with that looming problem we need to put more emphasis into the development and re-development of affordable housing as close to downtown as possible.”

With the possible loss of Crystal Towers, affordable housing seems to be in a questionable position. While Chrystal Towers is almost seven million dollars behind in maintenance, it does have 200 units of affordable housing in the downtown landscape. The city has no influence in the sale since the property is owned by the Winston Salem Housing Authority, an affiliate of HUD. Nonetheless, some on the council are unsure of the possible sale, worrying while the conditions are lacking, Winston-Salem already lacks affordable housing and losing 200 units, especially 200 units downtown, is huge.

At the September 17th City Council meeting, after intense questioning from Northeast Ward member Vivian Burke, the council unanimously approved General Agenda 7 which signifies to HUD the city will pledge six million dollars to support the Winston-Salem Housing Authority in it’s grant proposal to revitalize the public housing complex Cleveland Avenue Homes. The housing complex is around two miles from downtown.

Burke raised questions regarding the additions to the grant application which included parts of downtown. She was worried that if granted, the money wouldn’t be focused at Cleveland Avenue Homes but downtown.

Jeff MacIntosh, who represents the Northwest ward, said in response to the plans with affordable housing, ” Oh god yeah, I am excited. (But) there needs to be good affordable housing in all parts of town.”

This is the housing authorities third try with the grant and most of those on the council were supportive in submitting a third time. The only catch was the haste of which the proposal had to be submitted. After consultation from the McCormack Baron Salazar firm and a tip indicating the applicant pool wasn’t going to be large this year, HAWS went to work to get the grant ready.

While the grant is pending, MacIntosh added that, “Affordable housing is complex…It’s amazing how far money doesn’t go.” He remarked that while he is excited for the project if approved the issue of affordable housing is bigger than one grant. He added, “Affordable housing takes a really big commitment, and I don’t know if we have done a good job of building that support from the average citizen that housing is that important to us.”

The downtown scene has seen much change in the past decade; while some argue whether it’s revitalization or gentrification, what is known for sure are the higher living costs downtown. With this, council members worry that this explosion of high-end housing leaves little housing for low and modern income peoples.

Besse said, “As we have improved our center city and made it a much more desirable place…increasingly new housing in center city is being priced out of the range that regular working families can afford.”

Another housing-related bill that was passed was C-3, which granted the Peters Creek Community Initiative (PCCI) $600,000 to support their purchase of the Budget Inn. The Budget Inn resides at the corner of Academy and Peters Creek Parkway.

The project will produce 60 residential units in total. Even with MacIntosh’s somber mood towards these smaller projects, he mentioned the necessity of infrastructure and new developments. The motel is located right on the cusp of downtown, around half a mile out from the BB&T Ballpark.

The initiative was brought to the city from the PCCI which is a joint project of The Shalom Project, The NC Housing Foundation and The National Development Council. The total cost of the Budget Inn will be 1.2 million and the PCCI is looking towards Forsyth County to cover the other half. As the bill passed, Besse raised his fist in excitement. Besse called the project “transformational” and said it was a “rare opportunity to really create change.”

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