Winston-Salem Housing Authority to entertain offers for Crystal Towers apartments

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Crystal Towers Apartments, a Housing Authority of Winston-Salem property at 625 W. Sixth Street, needs about $7 million worth of capital improvements.

The housing authority says they’ve known of the need for about four years but haven’t had the funding to make the changes.

This, as operating costs continue to rise, is causing the housing authority to decide to entertain offers for the property.

“It was terrible,” said John Barksdale, who tells FOX8 he lived in the building for two years. “It was awful.”

When FOX8 asked residents what their main complaint about the apartments is, their answer was universal.

“The main thing in that building is them bugs. Them bugs,” Barksdale said. “Them bugs will run you out of there.”

“Them bugs, though. Those bugs, they need to go,” added Rico Givens, who says he’s lived there for five years.

“There’s bed bugs still coming from behind the baseboards,” said Wanda Harris, who’s lived there for more than a year and a half.

The housing authority says they were first made aware of the pest problem about four years ago. They add that they invited experts from North Carolina State to evaluate the problem.

They ended up hiring several pest control companies to treat the building. In all, they spent about $700,000 to rid the building of bed bugs by heat treatment in 2014 alone.

But, the bugs kept coming back, they say, either from re-entry from individual units or residents unknowingly bringing new bugs in from other locations.

In the years since, they say they’ve spent more than $250,000 each year to treat the building for bed bugs.

This includes hiring pest control companies to bring in dogs specializing in sniffing out signs of bedbugs, which would help them tag units for treatment, at a cost of about $200 to $300 a day.

“Somebody can’t even come in your house and sit down because they’re scared they’re going to get bugs on them,” Barksdale said.

Part of the needed improvements can be seen in the ongoing issues with the two elevators in the building.

Opened in 1970, the building is 11 stories high and is home to about 200 people. Many of the residents are elderly, disabled, or both.

The elevators are outdated, so parts are either hard to find or need to be built from scratch. They break down several times a year, which poses obvious problems for the residents.

Winston-Salem Housing Authority CEO Larry Woods says when one of the elevators breaks down, there can be a line of eight people in wheelchairs waiting for the elevator.

However, only about four wheelchairs can fit in the elevator at one time, meaning the remaining residents often wait up to 20 minutes for it to come back down to the ground floor.

“I’m not going up those stairs,” said Givens, who was in a wheelchair. “If I’m downstairs, trying to get upstairs, I ain’t got no choice but to wait.”

Woods added that the rising operating costs for the building are pulling needed resources away from other housing authority communities.

“We are no longer able to continue this practice without jeopardizing the operation of other housing units,” he said.

“Rather than await further deterioration of Crystal Towers, the Housing Authority has determined to take a more proactive approach.

As a necessary component of the transfer in ownership, the Housing Authority plans to tap into a pool of tenant protection vouchers, which will be used to relocate Crystal Towers residents to privately owned rental housing.

Other residents may choose to relocate to Housing Authority-owned communities. But in all cases the residents will be engaged with the Housing Authority in an individualized assessment of their own particular housing needs; and relocation expenses will be borne by the Housing Authority.

Housing Authority leadership is committed to a resident relocation that is collaborative, tenant-friendly, highly organized and well-thought-out,” a housing authority press release said.

It added that no sale will be finalized until all residents are properly relocated, a process expected to take place over the course of about one year.

“That’s going to be a big undertaking, because you’ve got two, 200-plus apartments in that thing,” Givens said.

The building’s location is just outside the heart of the city’s downtown, just a couple blocks from Fourth Street.

It’s also close to the Benton Convention Center, the Historic West End and the former GMAC building. The housing authority says the location has garnered interest for years. It expects heavy interest from both local and national developers.

“The Housing Authority desires that the site be utilized in the manner that will be in the best interest of the City of Winston-Salem. Consequently, while the Request for Offers contains a provision permitting the Housing Authority to reject any proposed uses that would have a deleterious effect, it omits any requirement that the site remain exclusively residential.

Housing Authority leadership believes that any loss of affordable residential units as a consequence of a potential sale will be more than overcome with the new housing to be developed from the proceeds.

The Housing Authority will reinvest proceeds of a sale in new affordable housing, which will be highly functional, more accessible, more modern, and more inclusive.

While no particular sites have been identified, the Housing Authority is focused on the proliferation of affordable housing in areas of opportunity – with ease of access to employment and transportation,” the press release said.

The housing authority’s request for offers will be published on its website, www.haws.org, and will be open from August 20, 2018 through October 15, 2018.

The Housing Authority has reserved the right to reject all offers; and it has no specific time frame for the completion of any potential sale, which would be subject to approval by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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