Featured photo: Crystal Towers resident Samuel Grier holds up a poster during a protest outside of the HAWS offices on Sept. 12. (photo by Gale Melcher)
On Tuesday morning, dozens of residents from Crystal Towers flooded the sidewalk next to the Loewy Building where the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, or HAWS, is located.
For the last few years, HAWS has been embattled with complaints from residents of the 201-unit downtown high-rise — from bed bugs to elevator breakdowns. The building mainly offers low-income housing to elderly and disabled residents. HAWS has since promised to update the building, but various factors have pushed back their efforts.
Next to a multitude of walkers lined along the passageway, resident Samuel Grier held up a protest sign.
“Mayor Joines: Keep your promise to provide funding for the building,” it read.
Inside the Loewy Building, HAWS’s board of directors met to discuss various public housing projects, including Crystal Towers. Residents filled the room at noon.
In addition to addressing ongoing concerns about elevator installation delays, HAWS announced at the Tuesday meeting that they will be implementing supportive services within the building in the future. However, there is currently no timeline or details on what kinds of services may be offered.
What’s been going on?
Replacing the unpredictable elevators is the first priority for HAWS, but attempts to update the building have been met with a few delays. Parts for new elevators were delivered in early May, and putting together each elevator car takes at least 12 weeks to complete, said Kevin Cheshire, the executive director for HAWS.
“We knew this was going to be, at least, a 24-week project to get both cars fully modernized and we knew during this project one car would be down at all times,” he said during the meeting.
However, the first elevator installation is projected to be completed around mid-November, Cheshire told the room on Tuesday. This is due to some “scheduling challenges” with Kone, the company installing the elevators, which has been experiencing labor shortages.
Cheshire said that after a discussion between HAWS and Kone, the company put a different installation team on the project to speed up the process.
“We expressed some concerns about the scheduling delays that we had seen, and that was Kone’s proposed resolution,” Cheshire said.
Each floor in Crystal Towers has laundry rooms, but the decision to centralize laundry facilities to the ground floor — the next step for the building — was made because the electrical components in the elevators “were being jeopardized because of water intrusion issues” primarily originating out of the laundry on the different floors, Cheshire said. The original anticipated completion date was mid-August, however “unforeseen site conditions” due to asbestos being found in the floor tiles added some time to the project — now expected to be completed on Oct. 26, Cheshire said.
“What we currently have is a general assessment showing priority capital need items,” Cheshire said.
Once the elevator and laundry projects are complete, HAWS needs to undertake a full assessment of the building because they “do not have a real scope of work and we do not have a real cost.” HAWS will have a design team go through the building “top to bottom” and identify areas that need to be modernized. Residents will be engaged in that process, Cheshire said. The city is going to pitch in to help HAWS with the costs, however, they “do not have a discreet financial commitment” from the city, Cheshire said, because they have “no idea what the scope of work is going to be.”
HAWS has already spent $1 million on upgrades.
Mayor Allen Joines told TCB in June that they have talked about giving HAWS $2 million, but they are waiting on them to “make an official request.” On Tuesday, Joines told TCB, “We’re pushing hard… particularly on those elevators because I was concerned. They’re so old they couldn’t get parts for them… things go out and then they’d be out for weeks at a time.”
Resident Norris Mitchell spoke to TCB after Tuesday’s meeting about accessibility issues caused by elevator problems, noting that the building is for “people that are old and retired and they cannot get around.
“I’m not young myself, running up those steps,” Mitchell said.
Regarding laundry moving to the ground floor, Mitchell expressed concern for friends who are disabled and in wheelchairs who will have to rely on the elevators being in working order.
“They ain’t got no choice and they’re old,” he said.
On supportive services
Laundry and elevator upgrades are old news to residents, but supportive services are the latest development. Cheshire told the room on Tuesday that he was “elated” to announce that they’ve received a commitment from a supportive services provider to put staff in the building.
“We started talking about this several months ago with one of our residents who is actually here today,” Cheshire said, later confirming to TCB that he was referring to resident Michael Douglas. In July, TCB reported that Douglas hoped to get an on-site social worker to assist residents and help meet their needs.
“We’ve got people in the building with mental health issues,” Douglas explained, adding, “We’ve got people in this building that could use some of the programs offered by the state, the county, the city… that they have no knowledge of.”
There will also be dedicated space for these service providers.
“As soon as there’s space available, we will have some supportive services,” said Cheshire.
Cheshire told TCB on Tuesday that a start date is “going to be contingent on getting that space complete and then finding [a] schedule and time when they can be housed over there.”
He’s not sure what those services will look like yet either, saying, “We’ve got a commitment from a provider who I can’t disclose yet… but we don’t know specifically which services are going to be attached to that.”
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