Featured photo: Samuel Grier and members of Housing Justice Now collect signatures for their petition to let residents stay in Crystal Towers (photo by Rachael Fern)
In the last few years, Samuel Grier, a resident of Crystal Towers for over a decade, says the building has deteriorated.
The elevators keep breaking, leaving those on the top floor stuck. The apartments need to be renovated, everything from plumbing to electrical.
All the same, he’s thrilled to be able to continue living there. On Jan. 18, the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem announced that they would be renovating the building rather than selling it. The 200-unit complex, which is owned by HAWS, offers affordable housing downtown.
“I was elated,” Grier said of the sale being cancelled. “I was very pleased. We as tenants of Crystal Towers, it’s very convenient. I like being here. There’s a bus stop on either side of the road. It’s a couple of blocks from downtown.”
The tenants, along with members of Housing Justice Now, have been advocating to cancel the sale for years. Now, Grier says he plans on keeping up the same energy regarding the renovations.
“We will be watching,” he said. “We’re going to be vocal. We don’t want no wool pulled over our heads. We want results. We gonna get our results.”
The decision not to sell was largely influenced by the $30 million Choice Neighborhood Grant funding the city received in 2020. The city also received $51.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds last year.
“The decision to sell was the right decision at the time given market conditions, funding limitations and the ability to leverage proceeds to develop alternative, mixed-income housing communities,” HAWS Executive Director Kevin Cheshire said in a statement. “That was the right decision then, but things have changed, and this is the right decision now.”
Crystal Towers, along with Sunrise Towers, was conceived of in the late 1960s as a way to break up segregated housing in the city. Crystal Towers accounted for $3 million of the $10.7 in building permits secured by the housing authority between December 1969 and October 1970.
Dan Rose of Housing Justice Now says the city had told him over and over that they were not able to keep the building for financial reasons.
“We were given all the excuses they could possibly muster,” he said. “We intended to build as much power as possible within the building and throughout the community to make it so the Housing Authority and the city were forced to give into our demands. That took a lot of meetings, knocking on doors, hard conversations, phone calls.
“The people in the building and Housing Justice Now organized together not only to stop the sale, but to demand repairs to the building,” he continued. “We were told over and over that this was not feasible, that the building was a loser and lost money for the housing authority. We were told that the city has nothing and wants nothing to do with public housing.”
HJN circulated a petition among the Crystal Towers residents, who overwhelmingly showed they wanted to stay in the building and see repairs made. The majority them signed back in the spring and summer of 2021. Between the Crystal Towers residents and additional community members, around 2,000 people signed according to Rose.
“We’re hoping that residents are included in the process and that the repairs are not superficial, that people are addressing the needs to residents, from plumbing to electrical,” said Rose. “They’re committed to doing the elevators and that’s a huge issue.”
Today, the building needs approximately $10 million in repairs, according to Mayor Allen Joines.
“I am delighted that the city and HAWS have arrived at a strategy to provide critical updates to Crystal Towers,” said Joines in a statement. “My goal was to preserve affordable housing in the center city and this new initiative will allow us to do so.”
“We will be watching. We’re going to be vocal. We don’t want no wool pulled over our heads. We want results. We gonna get our results.” – Samuel Grier
Deborah Watkins, a resident, was at Crystal Towers during the meeting in which the mayor and HAWS announced the cancelled sale. Watkins, who uses a wheelchair, mentioned that the elevator repairs are especially important because she and so many residents are disabled.
When the elevator shuts down, she said, “I can’t get to my doctors appointments. I can’t get out of this building. I’m on the fourth floor. I can’t take the stairs.”
Watkins also mentioned that the residents need new appliances, like stoves and refrigerators. But like Grier, she said she is glad to stay in Crystal Towers.
“I’ve been here eight years,” she said. “I didn’t want to move. We’re close to town, so we can get to the bus stop and into town. It helps me to get around. I don’t have to depend on everybody.”
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