The Winston-Salem Housing Authority’s Crystal Towers Update

On Tuesday, January 18th, just before noon the Winston-Salem Housing Authority (HAWS) and Mayor Joines held a long-overdue meeting with Crystal Tower’s residents. The threat of selling Crystal Towers has haunted Crystal Towers’ 200 elderly and disabled residents since the summer of 2018. Much to the surprise of this observer, HAWS and the Mayor announced that HAWS would not be selling Crystal Towers. Instead, HAWS and the City would spend $1 million to replace its elevators immediately and eventually formulate a plan to rehabilitate the entire building.

No members of the media were present at HAWS’ January 18th meeting. I was asked to leave the building just before the meeting commenced. But I was able to obtain a recording of the meeting. Below is a transcript of HAWS’ update on Crystal Tower.


Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
So I’m gonna go ahead and kick us off and I see some friendly faces. I’m Kevin Cheshire. I’m the executive director of the housing authority. I think you all know our mayor, Allen Joines. He was kind enough to be with us this morning. Lee Staton here to my right is our deputy executive director. So if I step off the street and get hit by a bus today, he’s the man. Okay?

<Audience Laughs>

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
Tee-Tee Parmon, former council member Parmon is here with us. She heads up our engagement team now. So you all probably seen her out trying to assist with ERAP and trying to resolve any issues. So she sort of serves as a liaison between resident communities and our management team. Next to her is Kelly Church, who is our chief operating officer. So if it touches public housing or if it touches our Section 8 program, Kelly is making sure that it’s running right. Okay. And this is the warden, I mean, excuse me, this is Beverly Carter-Leavy. You all know Beverly. So, Beverly is in charge of all of our management teams across our entire public housing portfolio.

So, just wanted you all to know the folks in the room. So, thank you all for being here. I’m sorry, these circumstances being what they, they don’t allow all of us meaning the entire Crystal Towers community who would like to be present this morning to be present. But we’re trying to be mindful and do everything that we can to do our part, to mitigate the spread of the virus. So you all are gonna be messengers for us to the larger community. And we’re also going to continue to have some other meetings, not quite, not quite as large, and not in the same capacity.

<Phone rings>

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
Mrs. Watkins, you know people high up, so that might be President Biden. If you need to take it you let me know.

<Crowd laughs>

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
But we’re, we’re not just going to not talk to folks, okay. I want that to be clear. This was the way that we needed to manage this today. To the extent that you guys are able to communicate with your neighbors, that would be wonderful, but this is not the last time that Crystal residents are gonna have an opportunity to hear from our management. So with all that being said, I know what you’re here for is to hear the substantive update with respect to this building and its future. And I do want to say I was here in the room three and a half years ago, and I know some of you all were as well. When my predecessor, Larry Woods who ran this agency for over a decade came in and quite literally with a tear in his eye said that it was the hardest thing that he had ever had to do was to tell the residents, living in this community, that he saw no other option, but to offer the building for sale.

And I stood right behind Larry or right beside him. And I want you all to hear this from me. Okay. I supported that decision. Larry’s heart was in the right place. Okay. And the circumstances being what they were in 2018, we had no other choice. Okay. My board and our city leadership have been consistent from the time the decision was made, that we were not going to be beholden to a decision that was made in 2018 if circumstances changed, okay. And circumstances have changed and they have continued to change. And we have continued to have conversations with HUD. We’ve continued to have conversations with city leadership. But to put it succinctly-land values have continued to rise especially in downtown. Construction costs have continued to rise. HUD under the previous administration was very eager to dispose of public housing properties and pivot to other housing models.

The current administration is committed to trying to find alternative funding sources, to rehabilitate and sustain public housing communities that were built in the middle of the last century. So a lot changed from the time Larry came into this room in 2018 and made the announcement and where we sit here today. Okay. And so our board, our staff, and city leadership have continued to revisit the decision and we continue to try to search and figure out what is the absolute best decision that we can make for our community, which is us in this room. Okay. It’s not an us versus them. We’re all in this thing together, trying to figure out how do we sustain housing for residents in our city and how do we do it to make sure that we have an inclusive downtown community. So I’m here today to announce in conjunction with the mayor that the city and the housing authority are partnering to preserve Crystal Towers.

You all may have seen people looking at the elevators. Okay. We are already in the throes of a process, to fully modernize both elevators. [Someone in the audience applauds] So this nonsense that happened back in April, where Lee and I were over here and Beverly until whatever time of night, we had to have the fire department on call because neither of the elevators were working and what were people gonna do if they had a medical appointment or had, okay. We’re done with that. Okay. The Housing Authority has committed almost a million dollars that we did not have in 2018 when Larry was in this room, okay. To modernize those elevators period, that’s happening this year. Okay. There are other capital needs, which we all know about. And that’s where the city has been supportive of us and this community to step up and say, we don’t know the full extent of those needs yet, but we’re gonna be right here beside you Housing Authority to address those needs financially, to address what’s needed with respect to resident and supportive services.

So that’s where we are today. I know that this doesn’t answer all the questions. Okay. Will there still be a need for temporary relocation? Will vouchers still be available for relocation? What’s the timeline on this? How much total money? I don’t have answers to that. Okay. What we’re putting to bed today is this lingering uncertainty. Okay. Where you all don’t know what’s gonna happen. When’s the building gonna be sold? Will it be sold? People who are looking for housing are scared to move into Crystal Towers because they don’t know what the circumstances are. Will they have to move out next month? Is management putting the resources that are needed into this building? We’re putting those questions to bed. Okay. We’re going to remain in communication with you and the collective resident groups. Okay. Moving forward, as we get answers to those questions, we’re gonna pass them along.

There will be no hiding of the ball. Okay. The Mayor’s been kind enough to stand with us throughout this entire journey, to stand with you all throughout this entire journey. He’s been kind enough to be here this morning. He does have a conflict, in addition to the fact that I gave him the wrong time. So I’ve already jacked up his whole morning. Okay. But he’s going to speak, he’s gotta get to his next meeting. So we’re gonna ask former council member Parmon to escort him out once he makes his remarks to you all. We’re gonna sit tight as a Housing Authority staff and we’ll to respond to any questions that you all have that we have answers to today. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Allen Joines, City of Winston-Salem, Winston-Salem Alliance:
I’m gonna take this off while speaking to you. [Apparently, he removed his mask] I wrote the mask mandate, but I put it out so I can take it off if I want to.

I did want to be here this morning to be a part of sharing what I think, I hope you will agree is good news. As I’ve said all along we are not totally interested in selling this building. We realize there was a situation that we were facing that the Housing Authority had to face. That appeared to be a good solution. But today I’m really happy as Mr. Cheshire announced, not go to sale on the building. And the other thing I’m really happy to announce is that the City has agreed to partner with the Housing Authority in doing the refurbishing, the reworking of this building. And as Kevin said, he doesn’t know exactly how that’s going to look, what the timeframe would be, other than we know we’re going to get the elevators working first thing. Other work that’s going to be done over the next four or five years, as it all happens there.

But I met with a group in here in this room some time ago, and we talked in detail about the fact that I’m committed to, [I] would not agree to sign on until there was a replacement for these units in the center city. Because there are very few affordable units in the center city and we want to make sure that we preserve that. So I congratulate the housing authority staff for working and coming up with a great idea and great solution there. I thank you all for your patience and [for] working with us going forward. And I know, as Kevin said, not all the answers are on the table today. But the main thing I want you to hear from me is that the City’s committed to working with the Housing Authority in partnership to refurbish this building. Again, thank you for letting me be here, and Happy New Year to you. And I’m sorry that I’ve got to run.

Crystal Towers residents: Don’t Run, walk! (The audience encourages Mayor Joines to walk safely on the snow and ice.)

Mayor Joines In Front Of Crystal Towers.


Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
[Inaudible-Something about Cheshire recognizing a member of HAWS]. Now it’s just us family. Let’s talk. Questions, you know, concerns? I know that feelings on this are mixed. Let’s just be real. You know some people were really excited about the potential of a sale, getting that housing choice voucher, and being able to utilize that housing choice voucher elsewhere. Some people felt completely contrary to that. Okay. And are gonna be very excited about this. So let’s just be respectful of the fact they’re mixed opinions about this, and I understand that. They’re mixed opinions amongst staff in this room, just to be a hundred percent transparent with you.

They’re mixed opinions as it pertains to the Housing Authority board. But this is where we are. And we’re gonna do the best we can moving forward with where we are right now. So I’ll open it up to questions. We are going to try to be mindful of the fact that we’re trying to keep interaction limited. We are trying to get in and outta here as quickly as possible.


Resident Question, Is Section 8 over? Or is there a way that we can get Section 8?

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:

So the question just in case people didn’t hear was about Section 8. Is there a way to get Section 8? So the Section 8 waiting list was opened. Was it last month or the end of November? So that was open to everybody. Okay. And you certainly, many of you probably did apply, even though you were already living here, you probably did apply.

So some of you may already be on that waiting list. Okay. So I’m gonna I’ll leave that down. I’m gonna put that down. As it pertains to Crystal Tower’s residents-three years ago or three and a half years ago, when we were in this room, the plan was to sell the building. We anticipated it would sell really quickly because we already had a buyer. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. The plan, as it was announced to you all three and a half years ago, was that you would receive priorities for vouchers. So once Crystal was sold-before it was sold, really we would work with you all. We would identify alternative housing. Some of you wanted to go to Sunrise. Some may wanna go to Healy Towers. Some may want to go stay in private housing somewhere with a voucher. And you all would’ve been able to receive those vouchers.

Without the sale, that voucher priority does not happen. But let me say this. We do not yet know what the rehabilitation of this building will look like. We do not know that yet. So, it is possible we will be able to do that with minimal disruption. Meaning if you are staying here at Crystal, while we do the rehab, you can continue to reside at Crystal while the rehab is being undertaken. It may be that we have to move folks out for a very short period of time-a month. Okay.

It may be that we have to move people out for six months. Okay. And in one of those scenarios, it is possible that you would still get the voucher and you may choose to continue to reside permanently with the voucher assistance rather than move back after the building is rehabbed. But we do not know that yet. Okay. We’ve got to get the engineers in to start working on the scope of rehab before we have answers to those questions.

Resident Question, Will HAWS paint the electric rooms and get the washers and dryers working on every floor?

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
I have got a list of things and I don’t even live here and I’ve got a list of things that need to be addressed-like yesterday. You know what I mean. That is 100 percent fair and 100 percent honest. I don’t know what the scope is going to be yet. I just don’t know. Okay. What we have committed to is we now have a million dollars that we did not have to fix these elevators. Boom, done. We can handle it. I got the money. We got the elevator man taken care of.

As far as what else comes next; plumbing issues, electrical issues, painting, a washer, and dryer. Those will be on the list for sure. Now how far along in that list or down that list we get and when I don’t have an answer today. We are getting those answers, but I don’t have them today. But it’s a very fair question.

Resident Question, What about the process for temporarily moving out of Crystal Towers during its rehabilitation?

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
That’s a great question. So for the people in the back who may not be able to hear, the question from the front is, look, I just said a few minutes ago, we may have to move people out for a month. We may have to move people out for six months. So how does somebody who’s living here kind of make decisions in that uncertain environment? So what we are going to do is work with an engineering group to assess what needs to be done. Work with the City, to figure out how much money they’re willing to commit to get that done. So just us in here talking, let’s say the engineer comes back and says, “Hey, this is $20 million, to get this building where it needs to be you need $20 million.” The City may say, “okay, great here’s $20 million.” Or the City may say “we can’t do 20 million, we can do five.” I don’t know yet. The Mayor doesn’t know yet. Okay. Once we know where that five is, we’re gonna say okay guys here is five ($5 million) that the City has given us, and then we’re gonna look at the list that the engineer has given, and we’re going to see what five needs to be done.

Okay. And we’re gonna identify that. And then we’ll be able to communicate with you all, whether it be through the engagement team. [Inaudable] PT, our management, our senior management, or all of the above and we’re gonna make it really, really clear. Larry said three and a half years ago, “we’re gonna be in constant communication.” Well, there wasn’t anything to communicate. Because we would go two steps this way and one step that way. So we’ve been sitting in limbo just like you all have for three and a half years. So it wasn’t that anybody was hiding the ball and we were getting ready to say, okay, y’all the building is sold now. That wasn’t happening, right? With this process, there’s a much more linear direction to getting to that endpoint. Meaning there’s a step and I can come and I can say, hey guys, here’s a scope of work.

Y’all look at it. What do you think? Okay? Hey, here’s how much money the City’s given. This is what we’re gonna do. This is what we think it will take. So there’s gonna be some lead time. So we’re not gonna knock on your door and say, “okay, you gotta move out for a month.” You gonna know when it’s gonna start, how long it’s gonna take, what floors are gonna be affected for how long they’re gonna be affected, and what your options are during the time they’ll be affected.
Resident Question, Resident asks about establishing a residents council.

Tee Tee Parmon, HAWS:
Again, before the meeting got started, we had a premeeting. [Inaudible sentence-something about the HAWS’ engagement team and Darlie Dudley]. One of the things that we have been pushing in the Housing Authority is for our residents to begin to form resident councils. We were speaking about that before the Mayor and Mr. Cheshire and everyone came in. That’s the opportunity for when you need to have these hard conversations. But those conversations about my [inaudible] don’t work. Or we need to upgrade this. We have money set aside for you to do the activities that you all are asking to do. But we also need for us, like I said earlier, we’re all adults in here. We have to be held accountable, to take responsibility for some things ourselves. Which is coming together as a building, as residents, and being able to voice those concerns constructively and moving forward. So a young lady said she wanted to be on resident council, can they get it back? It takes five, five residents. It can be more than five. But we definitely encourage everyone to participate in the resident council….[Inaudible] [Phone rings] A flyer will be coming out next week…

Resident Question, Resident asked about Crystal Towers’ issues with bed bugs.

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:

Bed bugs you said? I agree. That needs to be addressed. But I’m going to let Lee address it. He’s an expert on that. But again, just like the City and the Housing Authority are partnering, management and residents have to partner to eliminate those types of issues, right? So, Lee, I’ll let you jump in on that.

Lee Staton, HAWS:
I’m going to piggyback on what they said. So what is going to happen is we’re gonna be stepping up meetings with residents.

We’ve had outside experts come to this building and tell us what needs to be fixed. We have met with staff to get their opinion on what needs to be fixed. The next step is to come to the residents and to say, “Hey, what needs to be fixed?” Let’s get it. The contractor comes in here for a couple days. Staff is here, 40, 60 hours a week. You live here every day. You’re gonna see things and know things that we don’t. But we’re gonna give you an opportunity to voice your opinion. But you have to remember, there are how many units in here? 201 units, that’s 201 opinions. So, this is going to have to be a democratic kind of a system. Okay. What’s important to you may not be important to this person, but might be important to 10 people back here. So we are going to be cautious.

Okay? We are gonna listen to everybody going forward before we spend a dime. I shouldn’t say that. Because we’ve already committed. Everybody in here can agree [on] what needs to be done first -elevators. There should be any disagreement at all. As far as the bed bugs, having met with all staff last week and the contractor. The contractor will be coming over here in the next couple of weeks to [do] an inspection of all the units so that we can find out what units may have or have had a history of it so that we can invest in the treatment. Then we start investing in the treatment. We’re gonna start holding residents accountable. Okay. Meaning that we’re gonna spend a thousand dollars, $500 to treat a unit. And all of a sudden you call me back in 30 days and you got them again. Guess what, who am I looking at? You. Exactly, looking at you. Let’s be honest about that. Because the issues that exist in this building.

Yes, some are on us, but a lot are on residents also. Okay. That’s why I’m asking staff. Okay. That’s what [inaudible] the leases that you signed to start holding residents accountable. Our job is to provide safe, affordable, and decent housing. Okay. You as residents have options. Section 8 program is totally separate than this. If you want to apply for Section 8, go for it. It’s looked at totally different. You could be eligible for it. You have to, you still have to be eligible for it to get it. But if you get Section 8, we’ll gladly sign off and let you break your lease and move to Section 8 housing. But we can’t put you on a Section 8 list if you haven’t applied for it. That doesn’t happen. Right. Okay. Does that all make sense? Does that sound fair going forward?

Okay. So right now the waitlist is closed. Okay. It is closed right now. But well, as we’re working down [inaudible], one thing that we are required to do is to advertise it whenever we open it. Right. And we will advertise it in the newspaper, advertising it in-house, whatever going forward. Okay.

Resident Question, Right now there is a situation here where we do have a building association and there are members in this room right now.

Lee Staton, HAWS:
HUD only recognizes resident councils. Because of that, that’s what I recognize. I have worked in housing for 20 years. Now again, anybody can establish outside [inaudable]. We will listen to anybody that has the best interest of the residents here.

Resident Question, Resident asks about Crystal Towers United (without mentioning it by name) members being on the resident council.

Lee Staton and unknown HAWS staff :
Stated that a residents council has to be voted on by the residents. No outside group (Crystal Towers United) could be appointed to it. And that Housing Authority has no authority over resident councils. HAWS staff stated they would not attend the meetings unless invited, and they would allow the resident councils to operate independently. [Summarized for the sake of brevity]

Lee Staton, HAWS:
This is not something that’s new. All over the country, it’s existed for a while. So what we’re doing is-the importance of resident council is so important. Cause we don’t have all the time to pop off all 200 residents. We need the residents to form a resident council to represent all. So that they can have, the residents can have a voice. Absolutely. We’re on the same page with that.

Resident Question, Resident asks who will pay for the expense of moving out of Crystal for a month or up to six months?

Lee Staton, HAWS:
So again, just as the lady mentioned before, there are issues that we will defer to engineers and contractors to see whether or not a person has to relocate or not. If that is the case, [inaubible] will have to bear some of the responsibility. But again, you have to remember that we also manage a lot of different properties. So again, there will be options available. Again, I can’t speak to the future cause I don’t have a crystal ball. But my thing is being fair to the residents. Okay. Being fair to the process. Okay. And being transparent in what we do. Okay. Because very few times we will say that you have to unless it’s an emergency situation of health, and safety. Otherwise, we will work with the residents to get whatever the issue is resolved and completed. Okay.

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
In the interest of expediency, I know we got some general discussion topics. If there are questions or comments about the sale, the proposed sale, what the next steps look like? Let’s get those out on the floor now. Other general topics while they’re extremely important it not the purpose of this meeting. And I wanna be fair to other people who are not at this meeting, that we’re not getting off-topic and discussing other general management concerns. Anybody got anything else?

Resident Question, Resident asks about security and alleges that people are sneaking into the building.

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
Cheshire stated that the question didn’t pertain to the sale of Crystal Towers. (Summary)

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
So I’m good. Again, I don’t, I don’t want to close if we got other questions about the sale, which is no longer moving forward. But if there are other things, let, hold those. Any last questions about the sale? Going once, going twice.

Resident Question, The understanding that I have is that there will not be a sale of the building, right?

Kevin Cheshire, HAWS:
Correct. Thank you all.


HAWS’ Kevin Cheshire Walking Into Crystal Towers. Someone Should Have Dared Him To Spend A Night At Crystal Towers.
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