Renovations for the apartments at Willie Davis Drive and Cleveland Avenue in Winston-Salem were approved by city council on Monday evening.

The city will spend up to $750,000 to renovate both buildings, “based upon the bidding process and subsequent contract approval by city council.”

In February, residents of two city-owned, affordable-housing buildings — 1200 Willie Davis Drive and 1635 N. Cleveland Ave. in Winston-Salem’s Northeast Ward — received letters from the city stating that they must move out by May 31 in order for the city to perform an “assessment” and renovate both buildings. Following pushback from residents and community activists, the city allowed the residents to stay in their homes while the assessments were conducted. The city has not charged the residents rent since March 1. 

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)

Currently, residents pay $420-$475 per month.

Residents also worried about whether rent for the refurbished apartments would increase. The resolution adds that there will be an option to evaluate the leases before the lease expiration date for “possible increases of an incremental nature.”

Assistant City Manager Patrice Toney told TCB in mid-March that building repairs were “not likely to raise the rent.” 

In addition to the $750,000 spending budget authorized at Monday’s council meeting, 1-year leases were also approved for the tenants, who would continue to be charged their current rental rate. The new leases begin on June 1 and end on May 31, 2024. Additionally, the contract with the current property management company, Majestic Premier Property Management, will be extended. 

What will renovations look like?

Northeast Ward representative Barbara Hanes Burke said that the goal will be to “rehab the properties completely, not make minor repairs,” so that they are consistent with other properties that are part of the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative in that area. In 2020, the city received a $30 million grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the investment will be used to construct and renovate hundreds of housing units in the Cleveland Avenue area. The groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held in December. Burke added that the same appliances and flooring as those other properties that are part of the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative will be used to rehabilitate 1200 Willie Davis Drive and 1635 Cleveland Ave. 

“The beautification efforts will be consistent up and down Cleveland Avenue,” Burke said.

How is this impacting residents?

Northwest Ward representative Jeff MacIntosh said that while he’s grateful that the residents’ leases have been extended, he’s not comfortable with the city’s plan for the residents “long-term.”

MacIntosh added that he would like to have an ongoing discussion about whether it’s in “both the tenants’ best interest and the city’s best interest to keep these properties owned by the city of Winston-Salem.”

If the city sells the property, future lease terms and rent rate could be redefined by the new owner. Regarding concerns that the property could be sold, Assistant City Manager Patrice Toney told TCB on Monday that there’s a difference of opinions, noting that “some of the councilmembers do not want to be in the property management business…. Do we keep it and manage it, or do we sell it?” Toney added that something city officials could agree upon “is at least some stability for the residents, at least for a year.”

MacIntosh and Robert Clark voted against the resolution.

Willie Davis Drive resident Cynthia Herson spoke during the meeting’s public comment period, voicing concerns over the decision-making process and future of the residents.

“We’ve got senior citizens that live in my building,” Herson said, adding that the majority of the people who live at the properties are on fixed-income. 

Cynthia Herson, a resident of Willie Davis Drive, speaks during the Winston-Salem city council meeting on May 15. (photo by Gale Melcher)

Residents and social activists had previously come to a city council meeting in February to ask city officials to freeze the rate of their rent.

Herson said that residents were not included in the decision-making process. “That’s where the problem lies,” Herson said on Monday.

In a press release from the city, Burke said that “communications have occurred with the tenants through their attorney” out of respect for the attorney-client relationship and she wants current residents to be able to stay in the properties for as many years as they desire.

Dan Rose, organizer of Winston-Salem based housing rights advocacy group Housing Justice Now, echoed Herson’s concerns.

“The biggest problem of all is that you’re not talking to the residents,” Rose said.

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