The Winston-Salem Journal just posted an update on the measures the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem is taking to safeguard Crystal Towers and its other public housing facilities from the spread of Coronavirus. Earlier this week, WFDD reported that HAWS had taken a few steps to address the threat of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 at Crystal Towers. Winstonwatchman.com reported earlier this month that the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem (HAWS) wasn’t taking preventive measures to protect elderly and disabled residents at Crystal Towers. At HAWS’ last monthly meeting (shortly before such meetings were canceled), Executive Director, Kevin Cheshire appeared more concerned with the health and safety of his staff, than HAWS’ tenants.
The deadly spread of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 throughout the country has shed light on just how weak our public institutions are. Sadly, there is no public institution in America weaker than public housing. HAWS and housing authorities across the county are rapidly transforming public housing units into housing vouchers. HAWS is waiting for HUD to approve the sale of Crystal Towers to a group of car salesmen turned real estate developers. May our current economic crisis prevent that from happening.
The case for selling Crystal Towers was manufactured. HAWS inflated the building’s maintenance costs. They told the City Council that they had no other option when other options were and still are available. Evicting 200 vulnerable residents should be HAWS’ last option.
Returning to today’s article in the Journal, Wesley Young reported that HAWS bought over 50 hand-sanitizing dispensers and installed them at HAWS’ three high rises (Crystal Towers, Sunrise Towers, and Healy Towers) and its other public housing properties spread out across the city. The Journal also reported several other disease prevention measures had been instituted at Crystal Towers, including a glass partition in Crystal Towers’ office.
With a central access point, the high-rises are relatively easy to control for access. There have always been rules in place to limit access to people who live in the building or their guests, but Cheshire said that HAWS has stepped up enforcement.
“If someone comes in, they should be a known resident or a guest of the resident,” he said. “People can still walk in with someone because we don’t want to overreach someone’s ability to utilize their apartment. But if it appears that someone is having a coronavirus party, we are shutting that down.” -Wesley Young, Winston-Salem Journal, 3/29/2020
The casual reader of our city’s newspaper of record might not have a hard time believing that HAWS’ high rises, such as Crystal Towers are secure. But talk to residents there and they will tell you that unauthorized individuals get in and out of that building at all hours of the day and night. At Crystal Towers, exit doors often serve as entrance doors, security guards slack off, and front desk attendants look the other way as contraband, and god knows who walks in off the street.
To illustrate my point, back in December of last year, Kalvin Michael Smith was cut badly by another individual at Crystal Towers. According to the Housing Authority, neither Smith nor the man who violently assaulted him were residents of Crystal Towers. At the time of the crime, HAWS did not know how either of the men gained entrance into Crystal Towers.
In addition to not being able to keep any John, Dick, or Harry out of their high rises, HAWS has failed to keep bed bugs out of its properties, from Cleveland Avenue to Crystal Towers. Bed bugs are tough to completely remove from an entire high rise building. But with vigilance and proactive measures, HAWS could keep bed bug infestation to a minimum at Crystal Towers. Instead, they put much of the burden on preventing and treating bed bugs on individual tenants.
HAWS’ failure to handle the humble beg bug makes me skeptical of their capacity to address the Coronavirus/COVID-19. This highly contagious disease could be catastrophic for elderly residents at Crystal, Sunrise, and Healy Towers.
HAWS should have acted quicker and more comprehensively to address a global pandemic. Hand sanitizer and a few other measures aren’t enough. According to my sources, no one from HAWS or the public health department has spoken face-to-face with the residents at Crystal Towers regarding the Coronavirus/COVID-19. The same is probably true of HAWS’ other properties.
At Crystal Tower, the last time they had a group meeting was July 2019, when then head of HAWS, Larry Woods updated them on the sale of their building. HAWS officials are more comfortable at their Fourth Street offices than they are on-site at their residential properties (which are primarily in East Winston).
HAWS should also consider handing out masks and gloves to its high rise tenants. They should be cleaning and disinfecting their buildings more frequently. I’ve worked with fellow comrades at Housing Justice Now to help a resident’s group (Crystal Towers United) hand out gloves, disinfectants, water, and toilet tissue. But our efforts aren’t enough.
The danger of Coronavirus/COVID-19 spreading like a wildfire at HAWS’ highrises, amongst a vulnerable population is very real.