Featured photo: Residents of 1200 Willie Davis Drive and 1635 N. Cleveland Ave in Winston-Salem have been told by the city that they need to move out so they can do an assessment to renovate the buildings. (photo by Gale Melcher)

The Winston-Salem City Council meeting drew a full house on Monday evening.

“I would surmise that most of us here know why a lot of you are here,” Mayor Pro Tem Adams said. “We’re glad to see you.”

Residents of two apartment complexes at 1200 Willie Davis Drive and 1635 N. Cleveland Ave. who were ordered by the city to vacate their homes by May 31 gathered in the council chambers. In addition to the residents, community members and local activists lined the rows in anticipation, ready to voice their concerns during the public comment period. 

Both apartment complexes are more than 50 years old and the city-owned buildings have not undergone significant repairs or updates in about 30 years. The city has determined that a comprehensive assessment of the buildings needs to be conducted, but in order to do so, tenants were told they must temporarily vacate the premises by May 31. The city said that they are committed to offering 90-day rent forbearance. Tenants will not owe rent payments between March 1 and May 31. The city will also cover moving expenses including trucks and labor. The city has also offered rent differential for 24 months or until the buildings are rehabilitated, paying the difference between the residents’ current rent amount and their new rent amount — up to $385 per month for residents at the six-unit building on 1200 Willie Davis Drive and up to $519 per month for those living in the four-unit building on 1635 N. Cleveland Ave. 

In a presentation during the meeting, Assistant City Manager Patrice Toney said that renovations are expected to occur inside and outside these units. 

“The goal would be to renovate above the current minimum housing standards,” Toney said, adding that the renovation correlates with the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative in terms of the design and appearance of the units.

One of the speakers during Monday’s meeting was Cynthia Herson, a resident of 1200 Willie Davis Drive. 

“If you put us out of somewhere, and you give us your little stipend of $385 for two years, it still makes us homeless,” Herson said. “We [are] in affordable housing, why take us out? Why should we have to move out just for you to do a complete assessment?”

The city has not released a timeline for when the assessment and subsequent repairs will be completed.

Asks for repairs leads to displacement

A press release by the Winston-Salem-based group Housing Justice Now states that residents of 1200 Willie Davis Drive asked the property manager to repair the outdoor stairs back in October 2022. The statement says that when the property manager asked the city to assist with this expense, city officials said that they were unaware it was city-owned property and ordered residents to vacate the property to complete a “full assessment of the building.”  

On Wednesday afternoon, Carol Boykins, a resident of 1200 Willie Davis Drive, said that the stairs were repaired earlier that day.

“All we asked in October was for these stairs to be fixed, we didn’t ask for no other problems or nothing like that,” she said.

Boykins told TCB that the stairs had a “split going down the middle…. It rusted out.” Almost all of the residents in the buildings are senior citizens, she said.

Resident of 1200 Willie Davis Drive Cynthia Herson in her home. (photo by Gale Melcher)

Housing Justice Now argues in their release that “if the residents are forced to leave, they will face a housing market where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,151,” according to data from Rent.com. Currently the residents are paying around $450 a month for their one-bedroom apartments. 

The only thing the residents wanted, according to the release, was a repair to the stairwell. “They do not wish to be kicked out,” the statement reads.

The release also stated that residents have signed a petition asking the city to stop their efforts of trying to move them out, provide new leases to tenants locking in the current rent rate and make immediate repairs to the staircases. The group has started an email campaign for community members to reach out to city council as well, resulting in 200 messages as of Wednesday morning.

The stairs at the 1200 Willie Davis Drive apartments were fixed on Feb. 22. (photo by Gale Melcher)

HJN organizer Daniel Rose cited Mayor Allen Joines’ goal to develop more affordable housing for the city. 

“The commitment that he made last year for 750 units has already not been fulfilled,” Rose said during the meeting. The city missed their mark by 300 units last year.

“We’re seeing that this city is not really the City of Arts and Innovation right now, it’s the City of Broken Promises,” Rose said.

“How did you all not know that you owned 1200 Willie Davis?” Rose asked, a statement that was met with trickles of laughter from members of the crowd.

The city has promised to pay tenants $500 to help with fees residents may accrue as they resettle, such as utility transfers. Housing search and counseling services are being offered by the city as well with assistance from Financial Pathways of the Piedmont. Tenants will also be given preference if they want to move back in once the city has renovated the apartments.

But critics like Rose say that finding an affordable apartment for the amount the city is offering will be near impossible in this market.

“There is no housing in Winston-Salem at $420 to $450 a month for a one-bedroom in decent quality,” Rose said. “There is no reason to put them out to inspect that property. Code enforcement comes in all the time with residents in place…. This is about gentrification.”

Another HJN member, Renee Wimbish, brought up the current situation at Crystal Towers, a 200-unit affordable housing high-rise owned by the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem. Renovations were anticipated to begin last year, however Wimbish said that crucial repairs to amenities like the elevators have not yet been made. Many of the residents in Crystal Towers are disabled. 

“People [are] sleeping down in the lobby because they can’t get back up into their room,” Wimbish said.“Everyone here should be ashamed, utterly ashamed, of what you’re doing to our most vulnerable citizens…. And you expect these residents to trust you to fulfill these promises?”

In an interview with TCB, community activist Arnita Miles expressed concern about what will become of the residents who are set to be displaced.

“It is greatly affecting low-income people,” Miles said. “Where can you go in Winston Salem to find rent for under $350? There’s no place. So, where are they supposed to go?” 

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