The January 25 meeting of the Downtown Winston-Salem Business Improvement District Advisory Committee featured a surprisingly honest albeit brief discussion on the lack of affordable housing in the center city. The lack of affordable or even workforce housing downtown is the elephant in the room. Everyone knows that Downtown Winston has been and continues to be developed by Mayor Joines and his Alliance almost exclusively for affluent urban professionals. But rarely is this mentioned publicly, much less debated.
A predictably boring meeting of the DTWS Improvement Committee went awry when Jason Thiel, President, Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership asked Shannon Meyer, the property manager for Grubb Properties about the timeline for the completion and occupancy of the Link Apartments 4th Street. Meyer told Theil that pre-leasing will start in the spring and by summer “things will be looking good on that section of Fourth Street.”
But the restaurant workers and other workers that keep the downtown going won’t be able to reside at the Link Apartments Fourth Street. That was made clear when Sweet Potatoes co-owner Vivián Joiner asked Shannon Meyer about the rents at her new luxury apartment complex. Joiner mentioned the hardships her restaurant staff faces as many of them live outside of downtown and rely on public transportation. Her workers could use affordable housing units downtown.
Ironically, it was the City’s Restaurant Row program that allowed Sweet Potatoes to open on Trade Street years ago. The Restaurant Row program, according to the Winston-Salem Journal, “between 2000 and 2008… gave out $1,061,608 in loans to 13 restaurants.” Many of those loans were not repaid, leaving taxpayers with a hefty tab.
If the City had subsidized affordable housing downtown with the zeal it promoted downtown restaurants, then today, downtown restaurant workers would be able to live downtown.
The soon to open, 224 unit luxury apartment building (mixed studios, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom units) in the middle of Fourth Street, directly across from the Housing Authority’s Loewy Building, will complement the Link Apartments Brookstown and the Link Apartments Innovation Quarter. But the Link Apartments Fourth Street won’t address the city’s over 16,000 unit affordable housing deficit, and it won’t make downtown anymore affordable or accessible for the working poor.
“We seem to be pricing everybody out of downtown that really needs the convenience of working downtown.” -Vivián Joiner
Watch how uncomfortable the developer gets here. Because source of income discrimination is still perfectly legal, you likely won’t see any Section 8 families living downtown. The so-called affordable units they trumpet are not for the people who need them most. https://t.co/LSE1ueZtKX
— Housing Justice Now (@HJNWinstonSalem) January 26, 2022
In March 2017, City Council approved a downtown redevelopment project with Grubb Properties to develop a 240-unit apartment building on a portion of the old GMAC property. The apartment building will include ground floor retail space and/or apartment amenity uses that activate Fourth Street. The project was projected to cost approximately $48,000,000 and the City’s participation was $1,650,000. As part of the agreement, Grubb Properties agreed to designate a minimum of 25% of the units as workforce housing units for a minimum of 15 years, with such units offered to residents earning at or below 110% of Area Median Income and 5% of the units as workforce housing units for a minimum of 15 years, with such units offered to residents earning at or below 90% of Area Median Income. Source: City of Winston-Salem