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While Winston-Salem and other cities were addressing the need for senior housing, Doris Kimbrough was just moving into middle age. Her family’s trajectory represents the broad goals of national public-housing policy. Many of her children have moved away from Winston-Salem to pursue careers. A daughter lived in public housing for a time, and then bought her own house. A son moved to Morningside Manor, one of the Turnkey III communities financed by the housing authority.

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Close-cropped white hair frames a face that exudes vitality, giving her the appearance of someone much younger than her 91 years. Weathering arthritis and heart problems, she moves slowly with the assistance of a walker, but displays a nimble and engaged mind.

“People say, ‘What did you do to live so long?’” Kimbrough recounted. “I say, ‘I worked hard. And my faith.’ People say, ‘What does work have to do with it?’ You have to work for what you get. Working hard is not the end of it. You’ve got to have a reason. If I wanted a lot of things, by working I could get them for myself. I didn’t have to ask anyone else.”

After most of her children were grown, Kimbrough made a down payment on a house on Alder Street near Happy Hills. Maintaining the house eventually got to be too much of a hassle, and she sold it to one of her sons. She moved in with another son and his wife at the culmination of her 27-year career with Forsyth Childhood Development.

She decided to move back to public housing in 1998. Her daughter-in-law was, as she noted with a wry chuckle, something of “a cleaning fanatic.” If Kimbrough slept in until 9 a.m. on a Saturday, she would hear her son’s wife vacuuming downstairs. That was fine; she felt like the couple had the right to set the ground rules for the house. But she wanted her independence.

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“Coming here was just a matter of coming to a place I could afford, be free, be comfortable,” Kimbrough said. “I couldn’t afford a condo or a townhouse. This is a wonderful place.”

Two years after moving back into public housing, she was the president of the Healy Towers residents’ council. After being a single parent in Happy Hill Gardens, it was natural for Kimbrough to get involved in community activities, and her sense of concern for the welfare of others transferred into a leadership role at Healy Towers.

“I try my best to practice unity in this place,” she said. “Being president, I say, ‘We are our brother’s keeper.’ How you feel inside, I don’t know. But outwards we get along. That’s all you can ask for.”

The Healy Towers residents respect each other’s personal space, she said. The building has only one entrance with 24-hour security, so residents don’t worry about intruders. Many residents leave their rooms unlocked when they go downstairs for community activities, Kimbrough said.

When visitors come to the building, they have to sign in at the front desk and state whom they’re visiting. If visitors are found wandering the halls, Kimbrough said, they’ll be asked to return to the room of their host “or be excused.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for a very well researched and interesting article. I really do wonder what the future of public housing will be. Though both political parties have abandoned public housing I think it is needed now more than ever. More resources, not less should be devoted to public housing. Thanks again for providing a nice history of public housing in Winston-Salem.

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