Thirteen new homes could soon be built in Winston-Salem’s Happy Hill neighborhood in the East Ward. The plan involves American Rescue Plan Act funding that the city received from the federal government, which would be allocated to Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County by city council.
Councilmembers on the Community Development, Housing and General Government Committee recommended this move in a 3-1 vote on Oct. 9 with Councilmember Robert C. Clark voting against it, while the Finance Committee voted 2-2 on Oct. 10 with Councilmembers Clark and Jeff MacIntosh casting the dissenting ballots.
Still, the resolution is listed on the city’s website as going to the full council for approval next week. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m.
Councilmembers heard information about the proposal during a committee meeting on Sept. 11. Interim City Manager Patrice Toney told council that Habitat Forsyth would receive nearly $2.16 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to construct the houses on vacant lots currently owned by the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, or HAWS. HAWS owns multiple lots in Happy Hill, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, has required that at least 13 houses be built in order to develop the rest of the lots, Toney said.
HUD has deemed Habitat Forsyth a “trusted source” that HAWS can convey the land to, Toney said, adding that “the community would be involved in the planning of the remaining vacant lots.”
Happy Hill is “one of the oldest Black communities in this city,” Toney said, adding that it has “repeatedly and detrimentally” been impacted by policies and decisions made since the 1950s.
From the start of the discussion at the Sept. 11 meeting, Clark and MacIntosh were against financing the full cost of the housing development. They raised their concerns again at the Oct. 9 meeting.
“This to me is like a back-door reparations,” MacIntosh said.
“If we want to have a conversation about reparations — which I think we should — let’s do that, but let’s not try to achieve that through a very limited pool of money that we have for housing,” he added.
Annette Scippio challenged these statements, noting that it could take Habitat Forsyth several years to raise the amount of funding required to build these homes. The city stepping in would decrease that wait time.
“I think you might feel uncomfortable about… paying 100 percent for these homes,” Scippio said, adding, “I’m not sure why.”
“But I do know that that neighborhood has suffered for too many years. We have the money to make this happen. We have the money to release the restrictions from HUD and we need to do that,” she said.
“This section of our community must have homeowners in order for it to be vibrant long-term. That’s our responsibility to help that along. That’s real leadership in my opinion,” Scippio concluded.
Habitat Forsyth Chief Executive Officer George Redd said that the organization has built 426 single-family homes in the last 40 years. Homeownership is an easy way for families to build generational wealth and helps break the cycle of generational poverty, Redd said.
Redd said he was “disappointed” after listening to councilmembers’ discussion.
Other Habitats across the state “receive a lot of funding from their city,” Redd noted, adding that Habitat Forsyth is a “trusted entity,” has a “very good product” and has helped pull families out of generational poverty.
“That’s what it’s all about. Serving families in the community,” Redd concluded.
What’s the history?
Scippio’s voice trembled during the Sept. 11 meeting as she recounted the history of Happy Hill, a former plantation site.
“Slavery existed in this area. Our ancestors toiled and labored, and they were denied access to be full participants in America,” Scippio said, noting, “I can’t forget that, and I can’t let people act like it didn’t happen….”
“African-American freedmen were denied the ability to build within Salem limits, but eventually a compromise was reached that would allow freedmen to settle on the outskirts of the town in what is today Happy Hill,” a Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission document states. The land in Happy Hill was platted in 1872. Streets and lots were laid out on the site and the initial plat laid out 38 lots. By 1874, construction was already occurring on the land.
Scippio said that there was “explicit direction for that land to be sold to freed slaves to be homeowners.”
Over the years, residents of Happy Hill faced Jim Crow laws, segregation, redlining and lack of investment. Then public housing projects and the effects of US Highway 52 gushed through the community, and homeowners were displaced “significantly,” she said. “These are government programs, validated and endorsed by local government,” Scippio said.
Several graves in Happy Hill Cemetery were dug up to make room for the yawning thoroughfare and transferred to another cemetery. Findagrave.com states that around 200 graves were relocated. What remains of the cemetery is now pressed up next to highway pavement. According to the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission, when the city’s first public housing development was created in Happy Hill during the 1950s, approximately half of the houses in the neighborhood were “demolished to make way for the housing development. Through the ensuing years, a majority of the remaining buildings have been razed.”
Scippio said that years later, an idea arose to tear down this housing with the promise of replacing it with better housing.
That promise was never fulfilled. Funds ran out, Scippio said, adding that only a few single-family homes were built on that land and more than 70 lots have been vacant since 2000.
“We have to stop thinking about the cost of the dollars and talk about the investment in people,” Scippio said.
What does the research show?
According to a 2023 report from the National Association of Realtors, 20 percent of Black applicants were denied mortgages compared with 11 percent of white applicants. Today, 44 percent of Black Americans own their homes compared with nearly 73 percent of white Americans. Additionally, 24 percent of Black home buyers experienced discrimination by the refusal of a homeowner or agent to show them a property.
Studies also show that homeowners may age more slowly than renters. In a 2023 study, research showed that housing circumstances such as private renting, difficulty paying for housing and exposure to pollution are associated with faster biological aging. The study also showed that renting housing has a greater impact on aging than experiencing unemployment.
The quality of housing is important too. Poor housing quality has been linked to poor health.
A 2005 study stated that “income segregation — the practice of housing the poor in discrete areas of a city — has also been linked with obesity and adverse mental health outcomes.” Lack of investment in an area leads to a lack of amenities that make people happy, healthy and well; such as grocery stores with access to health food, sidewalks, bike paths, and recreational areas. The study added that “dilapidated housing is associated with exposures to lead, asthma triggers (such as mold, moisture, dust mites, and rodents), and mental health stressors such as violence and social isolation.”
Public housing comes in all sizes and types, from scattered, single-family houses to high-rise apartments. Much of the public housing stock around the country is deteriorating. Apartments comprise most of the public housing in Winston-Salem.
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