September 3, 2019

Breaking Crystal: Examining The Winston-Salem Housing Authority’s Assurances

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Crystal Towers is a “textbook case of gentrification… This is gentrification.”

-Jeff MacIntosh, September 2018

“I want to be clear. Housing authorities across America have gone through this. You can check with your pastor, you can go on the internet. There’s not been one individual that’s gone through this and has wound up being homeless.”

“I am not putting a building over people.”

-Larry Woods, July 2019

 

At the end of July, the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem held a meeting with the residents of Crystal Towers. This is a belated record of that meeting.

Downtown Winston’s development keeps rolling along at a steady pace. Recently, GlobeSt.com reported that the new Courtyard by Marriott on Fourth Street “is among the first hospitality projects in the country to be built as an Opportunity Zone development.” It’s unlikely that a hotel with “a full-service bistro, swimming pools, a fitness center, a courtyard, a rooftop bar with panoramic views and more than 1,500 square feet of meeting and banquet space” will in anyway serve Winston’s poor.

Crystal Towers is also in an Opportunity Zone, it’s possible that The Arden Group, LLC is using Opportunity Zone tax breaks to purchase Crystal Towers and push a majority POC population that’s poor, old, and beset by health issues out of Downtown Winston. That’s just one of many things we don’t know about HAWS’ ‘repositioning of Crystal Towers.’

We do know that a parking lot just up the hill from Crystal Towers has been identified as a possible location for a new downtown grocery store. And we know that downtown developers don’t want ‘aggressive panhandlers’ [the poor] downtown, disturbing the business environment. They’re tired of ‘bees go[ing] where the flowers are.’

The sale of Crystal Towers “is a textbook case of gentrification,” a slow-motion nightmare for its residents that the City Council has thus far abandoned. The words Larry Woods are important. But it’s certainly a mistake to take Mr. Woods at his word.

Here is the text of Larry Woods’ speech to the residents of Crystal Towers on July 31. Unfortunately, I didn’t get Woods’ opening lines. But here’s a lightly edited transcript of what I recorded. I removed some of the resident’s questions to keep this article from being too long.

Larry Woods: …And you’ll be interviewed individually. And we will encourage you to have a … your pastor, a friend. You will have also three individual services and new relations to refute that document, verify that all your rights and all your privileges are being upheld by this authority so that you will not be taken advantage of. If you have an agency that you feel comfortable with, that comes and visits you when you have your assessment, please let us know so we can inform that agency of your potential moving, so they can be in the loop and have the coordination of it.

Now, let me talk about the moving process. It should not cost you a dime to move. We will be hiring a moving company. Okay? And we will pay 100% of the moving costs. I’m not sure what the dollar amount is, but it will be 100%. If you are unable to pack, they will pack for you. During your assessment, you will then inform the person doing your assessment that you would like assistance packing. And what they will advise you, is to take all your small personal belongings, your watches, your jewelry, anything of value that you can put in a purse or put in a bag. When the moving company comes, they’re gonna be packing everything up and moving it to your new location.

If you decide you do not want anything in your unit, let us know at that time, and we will give you the check to give to the moving company, as soon as you turn over your key. That’ll be your check.

So if you just want to take your clothes and leave your furniture, that’s up to you. Okay? If you have a relative that wants to move you-We will then give that relative that check, or we’ll give it to you to give that check to that relative. If they’re willing to do it for half the price, that’s fine. The difference is yours. Now, I want to be clear on that issue. It should not cost you anything to move. You can have as many people in the assessment that makes you feel comfortable. If there’s anything in the location plan you do not understand we will ask you to give it to a pastor or to community legal services or human relations down in the Price building in City Hall and have them explain it to you. You also have someone-In an office, another office there to explain to you as well.

The voucher value. The voucher value is going to be based upon the size of the unit you are eligible for. Please bear with me. I know this building is 100% one-bedroom, but some of you have medical conditions that will require you to have a two-bedroom. We will give you a voucher in the amount for you to get a two-bedroom and still pay the same, exact rent. Okay? That is guaranteed. If you need a home health aide to live with you, and that person needs a second room, that qualifies you to get a voucher, a two-bedroom voucher. Okay? I want that to be clear.

Now, once you go through the assessment we will not be giving out 201 vouchers in one day, it’s not going to work that way.

Nope, it don’t work that way.

It’s going to be done through a system. Right now what we’re saying is that we would like for those individuals at the time of the assessment who said they do not want to stay here in Winston-Salem … they want to port out, meaning they want to go someplace else… Greensboro, Raleigh, Atlanta, Georgia… or Florida, that’s right. You can actually go to Puerto Rico.

Yes. If they will accept the HUD voucher. That is correct. [crosstalk 00:04:17]. They will be the first ones to get their voucher but [and] they’re the first ones to leave. So if you are porting out, you’re going to be the first ones to get your vouchers. As you leave, you will then bring me another individual to get a voucher. Okay?

You will have 60-90 days initially, we cannot sell the building until every tenant is housed. So don’t think that somehow … but we can’t keep you forever here. If you get close to the end, we will make arrangements for you to move into one of our existing units on a temporary basis if you so choose. Meaning, we have 376 one-bedrooms between Sunrise Towers and Healy Towers. Some of you may want to move a little bit permanently.

So, at the same time, your rent stays the same. I want to be very clear. Your rent stays the same. If you have an agency that is working with you, they will be notified. If you need assistance in going to visit a unit, if we make the referral, we will have a vehicle or a van to transport you to take you over to that unit. Okay?

From this point forward, every four months or every three months, we will be back here to give you an update, so that you will not be in the dark. But we will have to get back to you. Where we’re registered in the application. Okay? I want to be clear. Housing authorities across America have gone through this. You can check with your pastor, you can go on the internet, there’s not been one individual that’s gone through this and has wound up being homeless, it doesn’t happen because it’s against the law. You are protected. It shouldn’t cost you a dime.

Now for those who want a voucher, and whether you stay here or go someplace else, we are estimating 90-95% of you could be paying less than what you’re paying now because the voucher stands a little bit different, okay? So you’ll know that at the time of your assessment. We cannot tell you where to go. We can not say you must go here, you must go there. That choice is up to you.

The voucher is good as long as you remain compliant with the program, just like a lease. Now the good thing about the voucher, let’s say you move to a new development and you’re not happy when your lease is up, you can go find someplace else to live. It’s not like being here at Crystal, you’re not happy, you leave, you have no subsidy. You take that subsidy with you.

You got choices. Yes. That landlord would have to contact our office. Yes, we will … That landlord will contact our office, we will then inspect the unit, make sure it meets certain standards.  You’ll tell him what your rent payment standard is, he agrees to it, you can move in. And you’ll be paying no more than what you’re paying now.

Your voucher amount may go up because the rent standard may go up. But you’ll be paying no more than 30% of your adjusted income. It could change. If it goes down [your income], your rent will go down.

Not yet. It could. My thing is staying here. My thing is staying here. I have come here several times in the last two years, and I’ve seen individuals in wheelchairs lined up in front of this elevator when one elevator is down.

It is terrible to see eight, nine, 10 people in a line, and when the door opens, 15 people come out like this.

And then only two or three wheelchairs can go in and the rest have to wait til the elevator goes all the up and all the way back down. May end up taking half an hour sometimes 45 minutes just to get back to their unit.

I am not putting a building over people. My concern is about people over building. I want to make sure that you have a decent, safe place to live.

If you leave Sunrise Towers [Crystal] before we get the approval-you are not eligible for a voucher. Only the tenants that are here at that time will be eligible for a voucher.

You have to be in good standing. Your rent’s got to be paid. You’ve got to be in good standing. If you’re in the process of getting evicted, and we get the approval, you are not eligible for a tenant protection voucher. So let’s be clear, you have to be a tenant in good standing.

Any property that we own that you want to transfer to, you go right at the top of that list. You hear that our Section 8 waiting list is closed. It is closed. But this voucher has nothing to do with our waiting list. You go straight to the top.

Based upon a payment standard. That is correct. If the landlord will accept the payment standard you can move into that unit. Now, let me explain what that means. The payment standard for a one-bedroom maybe $800, just for argument sake. If the landlord says, “We only list our one-bedroom for $1,100,” that’s outside payment standard. You with me? So if it’s within the payment standard you’re fine.

Now, we are trying because of the circumstances to try and get HUD, with the approval, to ask for something called enhanced vouchers, which will give you a higher payment standard. We won’t know that until we get the approval.

You get as much time as you need. If it comes down to the bitter end and that vacancy is still not there, we will temporarily house you in one of our other units. You still have your voucher. When that vacancy comes through you can then move. So we will temporarily house and it may be in a bigger unit temporarily until the one you want comes through.

Resident: So if you have to go on a waiting list to have an opening, how much of a time period do you have?

Larry Woods: You get as much time as you need. If it comes down to the bitter end and that vacancy is still not there, we will temporarily house you in one of our other units. You still have your voucher. When that vacancy comes through you can then move. So we will temporarily house and it may be in a bigger unit temporarily until the one you want comes through. Yes, ma’am?

Resident: Is like somebody said is there any way you can get us a list of all the areas that you all do cover?

Larry Woods: We can get a list to you.

Larry Woods: If you have the voucher. If you want to move to one of our units you don’t have to worry about a waiting list. You say you want to move here and we have a vacancy you go straight to the top. You do not need to apply to our properties.

Tenant: I have a question. So if the voucher is say, $800 right, and then if the guest has income can they pay the difference? Is there room for negotiation? Let’s say the voucher is $800 and the rent is $900. If the person decides to pay the $100 difference. Will that be allowed?

Larry Woods: Yes, it will be allowed. Up to 40% but let me explain now. That will be explained at the time of the assessment and going forward. So when they say well, I found this place but there’s a shortfall, I want to pay the difference. We will inform you, be clear, you’re paying more from your own pocket than you have to. That’s on you.

A live-in-aid, their income has zero impact on your voucher. Live-in-aid income is not part of the calculation.

Let me explain that. Here you don’t pay any utilities. When you get your voucher if you find a unit where your utilities are included, that’s what it’ll be. If it’s not included, HUD gave us a formula that will determine what the utilities should be. We will reduce your payments by that much. Not your voucher, your payments.

So if you’re paying $200 and you find another unit where they’re saying $200 but the utilities are not included and HUD says it should cost no more than $80 a month for your water and electricity, you will only have to $120. You would pay less. Now that means any utilities you use is on you. If yours is less than $80 a month you’re ahead of the game.

These vouchers are once a year. It’s once a year. Once a year. We don’t have housing inspection. We have unit inspection. It’s called HQS inspection.

Unidentified HAWS employee: We do a quarterly inspection here and you still have to pass for your housekeeping.

If you move into a public housing unit over there or with a voucher you will get a utility allowance.

Larry Woods: You don’t have to stay. You can go anywhere you choose. That’s why it’s a housing choice voucher. You make the choice of where you want to move to.

Whoever you’re renting the two-bedroom home from, if they agree to the payment standard you’ll be paying no more than what you’re paying now. If the utility is not included you will pay less. You will pay less because we will deduct what HUD says your utility bills should be for that size unit. Now, how much you use of that on a monthly basis is on you. But if your bill is less than what we deducted then you’re ahead of the game. But if it’s usually more then you’re paying a little bit more. That’s how that will work.

No, we’re not a part of Holland Homes. That’s a different part of HUD. You can apply to Holland Homes. Holland Homes I believe is a private-based Section 8. So if you go there with a voucher once you get there we take our voucher back because your voucher is with that unit. I want you to be clear. Which means if you’re not happy there you cannot take a voucher with you. The voucher stays with the unit like it stays here. That’s the difference. That is a private-based voucher. These are portable vouchers. That will be explained to you every time we meet and do the assessment. If you need somebody to help clarify that, please have somebody… And we’ll try to have as many agencies involved that can work with you.

We won’t get the vouchers until we get the approval to sell. It could take six months. It could take a year. That’s out of our control.

There’s no limit on how long the voucher is good for. Once you get a unit that voucher is yours. As long as you remain a tenant in good standing that voucher is covered each and every year.

You can take your voucher someplace else. If you’re not happy where you are you can move someplace else and take your voucher. It’s like as long as you’re in good standing with the program, that’s all that’s required.

If you have a voucher and there’s an opening you can move in. Okay. Any other questions? There’s some questions that folks have been writing and asking me to address and a lot of them we did. They said, “Will residents receive a voucher and how long will they have to find alternative housing?” Again, 60-90 days initially. We will extend it. Okay. So I don’t want you to panic because we’re not giving out 201 vouchers in one day. Those folks who want to move out of the area will be the first ones to get their voucher.

If you want to move and you don’t want to take your belongings other than what you want to put in a suitcase, you want to leave your furniture and everything else, then we will give you the moving check and we will then scrap everything in your unit.

No, you cannot move today. After you get approved. You have to get the approval first. Sometimes… that’s why I’m coming back every three or four months so that there’s no confusion. There’s a lot of rumors out there about what’s going to happen. I want to come back and say this over and over again and if you have a visiting nurse service or you have a social service person or a case manager that you want to be here sitting next to you, I welcome them. If you have a family member, I welcome them to be here. Your pastor, I welcome them to be here. We have nothing to hide. We’re here putting you over this building. My concern is your housing needs and not this building.

It’s not first come first serve. Again, if you are looking to leave the area you will be the first ones to receive it. After that, it will be on a case by case basis. We haven’t worked out the next tier. Now, in our minds, those folks that can be housed easier will be the first ones that we’ll be working with.

Now, will residents have assistance in locating alternative housing? The answer is yes. You can locate it and we will provide you a list of landlords and we will provide you a list of units that’s available at the time of your assessment. There will be at least three on that list from us. If you need transportation we’ll have a van or a car that will pick you up here, take you to take a look at it and bring you back.

Will residents incur any expenses related to their relocation? The answer is no. We are hiring a moving company that is insured and bonded. All we ask you to do is take anything of value with you. Rings, earrings, jewelry, watches, cash, if you have a stamp collection. If you’ve got something that you assume is valuable take it with you because when the moving company comes they’re not going to take anything out of your dresser drawers. They’re not going to do that. They’re going to wrap plastic around it real tight so it doesn’t come out and they’re going to pick up the whole dresser and take it with them. That’s how it’s going to be done. They’ll wrap up your mattresses and your frames and take it out, and they’ll put it on the truck, take it to your new unit, and you should be there. They’ll set it up for you and it’s yours.

That voucher is good. Let me talk about distance. The moving company that will be hired to move you within a 50-mile radius. If you stay within a 50-mile radius we will cover that. If you have to go over that then you will have to figure out the difference. We cover a 50-mile radius, which is pretty big.

As I said, we have 376 units between Sunrise and Healy Towers and we have another 31 units that are under development and somebody asked, can we provide a list? We’ll provide you with a list.

Will the Housing Authority provide accessible assistance for finding new housing? The answer is yes. As I say, we will provide you with a list. Will the Housing Authority provide assistance for sustaining the new residents of Crystal Towers both financially and socially? Financially you should pay no more than what you’re paying now. We say 90-95% of you should be paying a little bit less but it should not cost you anything for this disruption.

You go to South Carolina, let me explain it. If you go to South Carolina, what will happen, we will ask what county or what municipality you’re moving to. We will contact that housing authority and inform them that this gentleman is called porting in. We will then have a discussion. The first discussion is we’ll ask them will they accept his voucher, which means they will manage his voucher. Managing his voucher does not change his voucher amount or how much he has to pay. It stays the same it’s just that they’re using their funds to cover the rent.

If they say they don’t have the capacity then that’s fine. We will send them the HUD portion of the rent to that housing authority on his behalf. So he doesn’t have to worry about that. Doesn’t have to worry about that. We will contact that housing authority and make those arrangements. It’s all invisible to him. All he knows is that every month is landlord is getting his portion of the rent.

Now, because you’re going past 50 miles, the difference between where you want to go and that 50-mile mark you have to negotiate that with either a relative to help you move or the moving company but you will get whatever that amount of money you were entitled to.

How will the residents of Crystal Towers be informed of important information? As I said, every three or four months I will be here. If I’m not here somebody will be here calling a meeting or asking the resident council leadership to call a meeting, and we will meet with them first from this point forward to give them a heads up of what we’ll be discussing so when they call the meeting we don’t want you knocking on their doors at 2:00 in the morning, “Why are we meeting?” They’ll know upfront and they can explain it. Any other questions?

I’m here to answer any questions you might have. I know it’s a lot to take in but again we’re not here to displace anybody. No one is going to be homeless.

You can move anywhere that will accept the vouchers. You don’t have to move to one of our properties and we cannot tell you where to move. It’s up to you. We can recommend but we cannot tell you that you must move into this unit in this location. It doesn’t work that way. And human relations, legal services will be on top of us if we ever did that. That’s against the law.

Once again, if you move before we get the approval you don’t get anything.

Once you get that voucher and you find a place to live and we move you there you can stay there as long as you choose. You’re paying no more than what you’re paying nowhere and in some cases you’ll be playing a little bit less. Now, if you’re not happy at the new location, unlike here, you can take your voucher and go find someplace else to live.

That’s the beauty of the voucher. A lot of people say I’m stuck here because I can’t go nowhere because this place has a subsidy. That voucher gives you the ability to move anywhere you want to move.

If you can find a home, when you say a home you mean a house. If the landlord’s rent is at the same level or lower than the rent payment you can rent a house. It’s no different. Whatever you’re paying here is what you’re paying there unless you choose to pay more if there’s a difference. That’s up to you.

It varies depending upon the type of unit you qualify for but whatever it is, whatever you’re paying here you’ll pay no more there. You’ll pay no more than what you’re paying here regardless.

30% of the adjusted rent. That’s the rent. Whatever you’re paying here at the time we get the voucher is what you’ll be paying in the new location. Whether it be one of our units or someplace else.

Every three or four months we’ll be back here to give you an update, just an update. We may not have the vouchers but we will give you where we are in the process.

Yes. The question was he’s in a one-bedroom and he needs a live-in aid and he gets a two-bedroom and the live-in aid moves in with him, will he still be paying the same amount that he’s paying here? The answer is yes. The live-in aide’s income has nothing to do with about how much money you pay. Their income is not included. So whatever you’re paying here today is what you’ll be paying in the future.

Housing Advocate in the room: You have told residents here that there will be no cost for relocation yet you told her that they’re not going to cover application fees at apartments. You gave an example of $80 utility bills that HUD would not cover beyond that. My utility bill on a two-bedroom monthly is $160. You have not discussed the relocation proximity from downtown. There’s no properties that are available downtown that are going to have the same access to transportation, groceries, drug store, pharmacy, doctors. You have not talked about the availability of properties anywhere in this city beyond downtown. Can you just please tell me when you mention the properties of last resort, are you talking about putting residents in Piedmont Circle and Cleveland Avenue?

Larry Woods: We’re talking about … Let me go through your first one about deposits. HUD federal law does not allow us to cover deposits because they will get their deposit back here. So if they have to pay a $25 application fee they can use their deposit here, number one.

Number two, a one-bedroom standard here utility allowance is less than a two-bedroom standard. So I don’t care what you’re paying they will get a two-bedroom standard utility allowance. Now, how much of that they use is up to them. If we reduce their rent by that amount and then they use less utility they keep the difference. That is how HUD works. Not Larry Woods’s rule. It’s not the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem’s rule. That is HUD’s rule. This is federal property. Why do I say it’s federal property? We do not pay taxes. We pay something called a PILOT. All federal property in the US do not pay taxes. We pay something called payment in lieu of taxes.

These folks are under federal protection. We’re not taking advantage of them. I don’t want you to scare them. No, I cannot point out units downtown. I’m not allowed to point out.

It’s their choice of where they want to live. It’s not my choice. It’s not your choice. It is their choice. I heard a gentleman say he wants to go to South Carolina, another gentleman said he wants to go to Florida. A lady said she wanted to go to Greensboro. That is their choice. For the first time in their life, they will have a voucher that is portable. They don’t have to come to me and I say, “Ma’am or sir, I only have one unit available and it has to be at Sunrise Towers.” Those days are gone. He can take his voucher and go to market and see where he can live. He has a choice. We will provide transportation to help him with that. So please, don’t put nonsense and fear in these people.

These are senior citizens and they have a right to have a choice. With that, I would like to say thank you very much and when you invite me back I will come back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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