Featured photo: 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)

For the residents of 1200 Willie Davis Drive and 1635 N. Cleveland Ave., the fight to stay in their homes continues.

On Feb. 20, eight families living in the affordable housing complexes in Winston-Salem were told they had to vacate their homes by May 31 after asking their property manager to repair the stairs on one of the buildings. City officials told residents they had to leave their homes so the city, which owns the property, could conduct assessments of the buildings.

So far, residents have been allowed to stay in their homes during the inspections, which started last week. But the issue of whether the residents will be able to stay during the changes to their homes remains to be seen.

Adjunct Professor of Law at Wake Forest University Yolanda Taylor, who is representing seven of the households at the complexes, told TCB that “the last of the inspections are happening this week.”

On Twitter, Housing Justice Now, a housing-advocacy group that has been helping the tenants, posted that the residents could stay during the repairs. But attorneys and city officials have told TCB otherwise.

Assistant City Manager Patrice Toney told TCB in an interview on Tuesday that long-term decisions about renovations will be up to the city council. 

“The inspector will tell us the basic minimum health and safety issues, and then they’ll tell us ideal repairs,” Toney said. “So it’ll be a list of everything and then the city council will determine how much investment they want to make, how much rehab dollars we have to rehab the facility, how much we can actually do.”

Toney said that the city council will be presented with some options and that “they will have to decide collectively.”

“Hopefully by next week… we’ll have some better answers,” she added.

In an March 1 email, Deputy City Attorney Jerry Kontos told Taylor that the city will have a better idea of the breadth and timeline of the rehab after the inspections; that’s when the city will be able to provide “the residents a more concrete and reliable array of options that might be available to them.”

Regarding the next steps in the case, Taylor said that once the inspections are done, they are planning on examining the city’s report.

“I’ve requested that the residents receive a copy of that report, and I want a copy of that report as well.” Taylor said. Then, she will make arguments as to why tenants can stay in their homes while the renovations are completed.

TCB reached out to Kontos who declined to comment due to attorney-client privilege.

The background

In October 2022, residents of 1200 Willie Davis Drive in Winston-Salem asked their property manager to repair the building’s well-worn stairs, which had a split running through the landing and a wobbly railing.

It wasn’t until the morning of Feb. 22 that the stairs were eventually repaired, according to resident Carol Boykins, who was awoken by the commotion. 

In the space of those four months leading up to Feb. 22, residents received notices that they had to leave their homes.

Residents were informed by the city that a “comprehensive assessment of the building” needed to be conducted and that by May 31, they must vacate the premises, which “[contain] conditions that are unsafe,” according to a Feb. 20 letter from Kontos to the tenants.

Boykins and her downstairs neighbor Cynthia Herson told TCB that there is nothing wrong with their apartments aside from the stairs.

“Every once in a while you know, somebody’s toilet might get stopped up,” Herson said. “Other than that we haven’t had no problems.”

According to the letter from Kontos, the city-owned building has not undergone significant repairs or updates in about 30 years.

On the faulty stairwell, a metal plate was placed over half of the landing, covering the crack. 

What will happen to the residents?

City staff has told residents that they will have the “first option to return” to their apartments once the refurbishments are complete, but whether the current rent rate of the apartments will stay the same has not yet been confirmed. 

Toney told TCB on Tuesday that while the repairs are “not likely to raise the rent at this point,” she can’t say for certain “because our city council is the one who makes these decisions.” 

The city has offered the tenants of 1200 Willie Davis Drive 24 months of rent differential in the amount of $385 per month, and tenants are not required to pay rent from March 1 until the relocation date of May 31. But still, Boykins wonders: After the two years are up, how will she and the other residents afford to either stay in their new places or move back into the newly refurbished apartments?

“Where are we going to get the extra money from?” Boykins asked. “We’re gonna be homeless if we go someplace else and can’t afford the rent.”

Boykins — who had already started packing before TCB visited the apartments in February — mentioned that the residents of 1200 Willie Davis Drive are all senior citizens. 

“We just asked for the stairs to be fixed so we don’t fall and get hurt,” she said.

Boykins’ home was mostly bare and her possessions packed into stacks of boxes.

The fight for the residents has been strongly backed by members of the community. Many members of HJN and the general public spoke out against the city’s decision in the public comment period during a Feb. 20 city council meeting. 

Herson also spoke up for her community, positing to the council that since the residents are already in affordable housing, why take them out?

“Why should we have to move out just for you to do a complete assessment?” she asked.

The recent social media post by HJN reads that residents are focusing on fighting for a rent freeze and a voice in how their property is managed.

“I’ll fight for my right,” Herson told TCB in February, adding firmly, “And I’ll tell ‘em, I win all my fights.”

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