Featured image: Residents of Clifford Apartments speak out in front of city hall, Dr. Arnita Miles addresses the crowd. (Photo by Gale Melcher)
Tenants of an affordable-housing apartment complex are wary about the future as their homes switch hands from a nonprofit to a local developer.
On Monday evening, the city of Winston-Salem agreed to sell Clifford Apartments to Jared Rogers and Russ Anderson for $600,000 in “support of the city’s affordable housing objectives.” Councilmembers voted 5-3, with Barbara Hanes Burke, Annette Scippio and James Taylor, Jr. voting in opposition.
In November, the city purchased the property located at 800 N. Spring St. from nonprofit organization Experiment in Self-Reliance (ESR) for $760,000, with plans to sell it “as soon as possible” according to Councilmember Jeff MacIntosh. Many residents said that they felt like they were left out of the conversation.
All eight tenants signed a petition opposing the sale, which was hand-delivered to City Manager Pat Pate on Monday afternoon before the sale occurred.
That afternoon, local tenants’ rights organization Housing Justice Now held a press conference in front of city hall. Residents and activists wondered aloud about whether the building would remain affordable after the sale.
Resident Karen Spaugh has lived in the building for 25 years and worries that she will become homeless.
“I’m very upset and appalled,” she said.
Tenants’ health and safety is another concern.
“My apartment is deemed unfit to live in,” another resident Gerick Walker said. Forsyth County Property Records notes that the eight-unit apartment building built in 1955 was sold to ESR in 1993 for $0. That same year, the city gave ESR a $300,000 grant that allowed them to purchase the property and complete repairs. The city forgave $235,000 of the grant in 2008.
When ESR owned the property, Walker complained about code violations. Walker’s theory is that ESR flew the coop because they didn’t want to deal with the consequences.
“Once I took it a step further to actually do something about it and complain to them, we started getting pushed out,” Walker said.
Then ESR sold the building to the city without making the repairs to Walker’s apartment.
“They sold the building because they didn’t want to deal with the issues that they caused,” Walker said. “ESR was a non-profit organization that was supposed to help us. But instead of helping us, they left us in slum conditions and then sold us back to the city for a profit.”
Who is the new owner?
Rogers is buying these housing units because he wants to keep them local.
“We’re local, and I think we can do it better than some of the out-of-state investors who are really just — I hate to use the word sharks — but that’s what they are,” he told TCB. “All they do is cut expenses to the bone, jack rents as high as they can.”.
Rogers added, “I know how the game works. I don’t like the game.”
Rogers is a member of City With Dwellings’ board of directors, an organization that helps support unhoused people.
He expressed interest in purchasing the property when ESR listed it on the market in October, thinking that it could be a good fit for City With Dwellings.
“We looked at it for our housing-first initiative,” Rogers told councilmembers during a Dec. 11 committee meeting.
In an interview with TCB, Rogers said that he originally called the city asking if they would help City With Dwellings buy the property, concerned that it would be bought up by developers who wouldn’t be keen on keeping the units affordable.
According to Councilmember Jeff MacIntosh, on Dec. 11, the city didn’t even know that ESR was trying to sell the property until Rogers called them.
The city decided to step in and buy the property “to keep the units affordable,” City Attorney Angela Carmon said on Dec. 11, as opposed to letting a private property owner purchase the building and “turn the units into market rate units.”
The building and its affordability “would have been lost” had Rogers “not brought it to our attention,” MacIntosh said during the Dec. 11 meeting.
Ultimately, the two-bedroom units aren’t the right fit for the City With Dwellings right now, Rogers said, but he sees it as a “future need, three to five years down the road.” Rogers and other investors will “basically hold it until it becomes a need for City With Dwellings,” he said during the meeting.
Rogers also told TCB that he told the city that if any non-profit organizations were interested in the property, he was willing to “step aside.”
Rogers told TCB that he has plans to meet with the residents once they “formally go under contract.”
“I’ll walk each space and interview each tenant,” he said. “It’s the landlord’s job to fix problems.”
Rogers wants to help keep affordable housing units affordable, and these units won’t be his last purchase. He’s “jumpstarting” the work by purchasing these first eight affordable housing doors and aims to open 100 by the end of the year.
After speaking with residents when the meeting ended, Rogers told TCB that he was open to the possibility of tenants eventually buying the building from him.
Rogers told council on Monday that his plan is to keep rents “as low as we can for it to sustain itself.”
Still, some residents are worried about the possibility that their rent will increase in 2026. After the meeting, Spaugh told TCB, “I feel the same, like I’m gonna be homeless. I know what the man said, but that don’t make me feel better.”
Residents currently pay $580-675 in monthly rent. But a $600,000 price tag is steep for a building that rakes in $5,400 a month — at most.
This is why Rogers thinks that Section 8 vouchers will be a great way to help tenants afford their rent and help him break even.
With a Section 8 voucher, the tenant is responsible for putting at least 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities while the housing authority pays the rest. By law, the tenant cannot pay more than 40 percent of their adjusted monthly income for rent.
“Some of these tenants might see their monthly expenses go down because they’re paying more than 30 percent,” he told council on Monday.
“We’re looking at this as a gateway to doing more Section 8 housing,” Rogers told TCB. Rogers said that two tenants already have Section 8 vouchers and wants the other six to get them too.
However, he “can’t predict each tenant’s situation.”
The Housing Authority of Winston-Salem currently subsidizes the rents of approximately 4,600 families in the city with these vouchers. However, due to the number of applicants currently on the waiting list, the queue for the voucher program is currently closed.
Time is also a factor.
Processing an application can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Once applications are reviewed and deemed eligible, they are placed on a waiting list. Some waiting lists are several years long while others are shorter.
With the assistance of City With Dwellings, Rogers and Anderson will work with existing tenants to secure vouchers when voucher enrollment occurs, according to city documents. Rogers hopes that the voucher program will open up before the end of 2025.
This gave Councilmember Burke pause. On Monday, she pressed Rogers: “Just for clarification, there are no guarantees when it comes to Section 8 vouchers.”
“There’s no guarantee that the individuals who may apply would even qualify,” she added.
“We’ll just have to tackle that bridge when it comes,” Rogers responded.
“So they could possibly be displaced?” Burke questioned.
“I’ve never displaced anyone in any rental house I’ve bought,” Rogers answered.
Still, most councilmembers felt that this was the best solution that could come out of a bad situation. Mayor Pro Tempore D.D. Adams drove this point home.
“Preservation of affordable housing is the number one priority,” she said. “We have to do what we can to keep them, we have to do what we can so that we have a say in what happens to them.”
What does ‘affordable’ really mean?
Thanks to a state law passed in 2021 that specifically applies to Winston-Salem, the city can now sell their property with restrictions to keep it affordable. By buying this property, Rogers and Anderson have agreed to adhere to these conditions, and the apartments must remain affordable for 30 years.
But what does affordable really mean?
Per city ordinance, affordable housing is defined as housing that can serve eligible households with an income that is no more than 80 percent of the area median income, or AMI. According to Fannie Mae, the city’s AMI is $81,300. Under the city’s rules, 65 percent of the Clifford Apartment units sold to Rogers must be developed or renovated for affordable housing. Of that 65 percent, 20 twenty percent of those units must be set aside for eligible households that make 30 percent and below of the area median income or AMI. Another 30 percent of the units shall be set aside for eligible households that make between 31-50 percent AMI. The remaining 50 percent of the units need to be set aside for households that make 51-80 percent AMI.
The other 35 percent of the units may be leased to residents meeting the income requirements for either workforce housing or market rate housing.
Additionally, Rogers and Anderson have agreed to maintain the rent structure for the current tenants through the end of 2025.
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