Among Winston-Salem’s three public-housing towers, Healy serves elderly residents, while Crystal serves elderly and disabled residents. Sunrise is the least restrictive of the three towers, serving any adult 18 years or older whose income meets the eligibility threshold. Sunrise Towers, Cleveland Avenue Homes and Piedmont Park — all in East Winston — are among the locations targeted for the “step-up housing” program launched in 2012.
In echoes of the Turnkey III program in the ’70s, “step-up housing” is designed to put public-housing residents on a path towards self-sufficiency. All adults who sign up for the program, with the exception of the elderly and disabled, are required to work at least 30 hours a week; in exchange they receive educational, employment and financial assistance through an array of partnering agencies, including Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina and Winston-Salem State University.
The housing authority held an open house for the new Oaks at Tenth townhouse development, the agency’s first “step-up” community with 50 units, in November 2013. The community is located about a block north of Sunrise Towers, part of an area slated for redevelopment in an effort led by the housing authority.
Camden Station, a second “step-up” townhome development another two blocks north, has an anticipated grand opening later this year.
While attempting to move people out of public housing — particularly in the East Winston area, with a high concentration of low-income residents — the housing authority is trying to attract new investment from retailers and higher-income residents to reverse the spiral of environmental poverty. As outlined in a 114-page document, a master plan focuses on a 130-acre area flanking Cleveland Avenue north of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, with a recommendation to increase “the density and spending power” of the area, with an eye towards diversifying income levels to support retail.
Larry Woods, the CEO of the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, has suggested in previous comments that he sees little future for public housing, at least where the young and able-bodied are concerned. Woods could not be reached for comment for this story.
“Free housing is not going to be here anymore,” Woods told a group of about 25 East Ward residents at Shiloh Baptist Church in 2012, as reported in Yes Weekly.
“The federal government’s going broke,” he continued. “I don’t care who is the president. This country is going broke. The country is trillions of dollars in debt. No one is going to raise taxes. This country is not going to cut spending on the military. So what’s left? Social services. They’re already talking about cutting food stamps. If you don’t think they’re going to cut housing, they’re going to cut housing.”
Woods expressed frustration to the House Ways and Means Committee in 2013, noting that when the “step-up” program was introduced the year before only 60 residents out of 729 households attended.
“Additional efforts were made to engage tenants with these services and opportunity for them to improve their lives,” Woods told Congress. “Upon investigation and interviews with the tenants and former tenants who had successful exits from public housing, the reasons for lack of interest in the program were basically the same: There was not a requirement that the tenants participate in order to continue receiving housing assistance.”
For Woods, moving people who don’t truly need assistance out of public housing is a matter of allocating the agency’s resources most efficiently to assist those who do need help. He said the housing authority’s waiting list for public housing is 30 percent over capacity, and new applicants have to wait two to three years to get in.