Residents tell Besse to fight to protect affordable housing

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Residents of the Ardmore Terrace and Cloverdale apartments, along with supporters from the neighborhood, tell Councilman Dan Besse they want to fight to save the apartments, or at least strike a compromise to preserve some of them.

Councilman Dan Besse had the mood gauged just about right at the outset of a public-input meeting in the gymnasium on Monday evening.

Roughly split between residents of the Ardmore Terrace and Cloverdale apartments and people who live in the greater Historic Ardmore neighborhoods, public speakers at the meeting hit a broad consensus of displeasure about a plan to demolish the affordable housing complex and upgrade it for a higher-income clientele.

About 150 people showed up at Miller Park Recreation Center in Winston-Salem, and residents who spoke supported the councilman’s desire to fight a plan by the ownership group to knock down the vintage two-story apartment buildings and redevelop the site.

Many of the residents of the apartment complex are elderly and disabled, while others don’t own vehicles. Besse has said that the 350 units, which rent in the $500s for a single bedroom and in the $600s for two bedrooms, are the single largest concentration of affordable housing in the Southwest Ward, which he represents on city council. The community is within easy walking distance of Baptist Hospital and Thruway Shopping Center. Residents have said they would have difficulty finding housing at an equivalent cost in an area where they could walk to work, grocery stores and pharmacies, and some have said they can’t afford the cost of moving.

“I challenge the developer and I challenge the owner of the property: Where is another part of the city that is affordable and meets the residents’ requirements?” Ryan White said. “There are two pharmacies in walking distance. A lot of the residents have medical issues. Where is another place that will meet their needs?”

Besse has been meeting with the developer, whom he did not identify by name at the meeting on Monday, to discuss options for the property. The councilman has previously identified the developer as Robin Team of Carolina Investment Properties in Winston-Salem. The complex is owned by two companies, Ardmore Terrace and Cloverdale, which are controlled by heirs of the two families that built the apartments in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Craig Petross, the president of the two companies, could not be reached for comment for this story.

Hannah Ainsworth said she moved into Ardmore Terrace Apartments as a student. She was attracted to the walkability of the area and the safety of the apartments, allowing her to come and go at odd hours. She also likes the diversity, and the mix of families and single professionals.

“When I come back to that apartment, I see families playing in the yard,” Ainsworth said. “That’s literally like a snapshot of the perfect TV family. What can I do to help your efforts? What can I do to save this community?”

Besse replied that he might have a spot for Ainsworth on a citizens advisory committee.

Since Besse first exposed the redevelopment plan on Aug. 7, the plight of the residents has attracted broad sympathy from residents across the city.

“We want you to recognize that the middle class is an endangered species in Winston-Salem,” Lynn Byrd said. “We don’t have to look for birds of a rare feather in the bushes. It’s all the people in this room.”

Besse indicated he concurred with her assessment.

“We are beginning to see the dearth of affordable housing, which has increasingly hit cities across the state and nation,” he said. “It’s already hit places like Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville and Durham. Historically, Winston-Salem was considered more affordable, while still retaining a quality of life.”

As an unwelcome side effect of the boom in reinvestment in and around downtown, the trend began with the demolition of the West Side Apartments, according to Besse. City council approved a rezoning to allow redevelopment, which Besse said was easier to justify considering that the property was rundown, the apartments were operating at lower occupancy and the number of affected residents was lower. The luxury apartments equipped with a fitness center, swimming pool and lounge that replaced the low-income West Side Apartments have not earned a lot of fans in Ardmore, which lies just across Business 40.

One neighborhood resident told Besse she would hate to see the Ardmore Terrace and Cloverdale apartments “turn into that monstrosity called the Edge with rents of $1,300 per month for one bedroom.”

It’s likely that the developers are aiming for the same market, Besse suggested.

“I can infer from circumstances that they would have to rent for substantially more than the current apartments, or else they would not have the motivation [to redevelop],” Besse said.

Not everyone is convinced that the developers understand the market.

“It’s gonna cost a pot of money to tear down those buildings,” said David Cone, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. “It’s gonna cost a pot of money to building new buildings. The only way to make money from that is to raise the rent exponentially. I think these people have over-estimated the demand for high-end apartments. There are plenty of high-end apartments in Winston-Salem.”

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Besse said that with the residents backing he is confident he can get the majority of his fellow council members to vote down a rezoning request allowing the developer to build a mixed-use project with retail and residential units. The developer has indicated that as a fallback plan, they would proceed with a project limited to residential uses, which would not require a zoning change or the approval of city council. Besse has asked the developer to consider a compromise plan, which would preserve some of the affordable housing. As an inducement, the councilman is trying to identify federal and city funds to help make the deal attractive to the developers. He said a member of staff in the city’s community & business development department told him he thought it would be reasonable for the city to invest $1.5 million to $2 million in the neighborhood.

“I have to say I would not be encouraged about the end results if I just said, ‘No I’m not gonna deal,’” Besse said. “I am confident that if we negotiate we can get some concessions.”

One constituent challenged the councilman by asking what he was willing to concede and what would happen to the residents when he made the concessions in one-on-one negotiations with the developer.

“That’s what we’re here to do tonight, is hear from people about what principles are important to stick to,” Besse responded.

Earlier in the meeting he had said, “Displacement — that is a hot topic for discussion and negotiation. As a practical matter, I think it’s not so much about whether there’s a plan for relocation as much as whether there’s an adequate plan. Just picking up the moving costs of an 80-year-old resident who can’t afford to move is not acceptable in my view.”

Residents said they were angry about the plan to demolish the apartments.

Robin Wyatt said her 16-year-old daughter was distraught when she discovered a flier left by Besse that exposed the owners’ plan to redevelop the property.

“She fell apart when she saw that because she thought we would have to be out immediately,” Wyatt said. “As a parent and as someone on limited income, to not be able to say, ‘We’re going to have safe housing and to have the money to move,’ it’s the worst feeling. I come here as a scared parent who didn’t want to bring her child because I don’t have any answers.”

Besse said he understood.

“I’m very sorry,” he said. “I just don’t think the owners can understand what it’s like to be in that situation.”