The 50 units that will make up The Oaks at Tenth will boast hardwood floors, energy-efficient kitchens, washers and dryers and many other features that urban dwellers have come to expect.
The Housing Authority of Winston-Salem (HAWS) wants The Oaks to be its prototype, a symbol of what modern public housing can and should look like. But breaking the public housing mold, say HAWS officials, is less about aesthetics and more about the men, women and families who will make facilities like The Oaks their home.
Located at Tenth Street and Cleveland Avenue – the site of the former Johnson Square – The Oaks at Tenth will be the Housing Authority’s first “Step Up” property; as such, all able-bodied adult residents will be required to maintain a job as a provision of their lease. Each head of household must work at least 30 hours weekly; that requirement increases by 10 hours per week for each additional adult that resides in the unit. Monthly rent payments will be congruent with a household’s income.
“People move in to public housing when they are 21, and they stay until they pass away,” HAWS CEO Larry Woods said Thursday during an open house at The Oaks, which won’t welcome its first residents until later this year or early next year.
Woods said dependance on public housing has become a generational cycle that is detrimental to both residents and the Housing Authority, which has a waiting list that is perpetually overburdened because residents rarely transition out of government-subsidized housing.
Step Up is based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Moving to Work” program. Woods said HAWS has been fortunate in that a number of local agencies have signed on to help those who are interested in living at The Oaks but do not currently meet the employment criterion.
The poverty-fighting Kate B. Reynolds Foundation has chipped in $250,000 to help cover educational and training programs; Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina and Northwest Piedmont Workforce Development will also offer training and employment services.
Ten of the The Oaks units – which have one to three bedrooms and various floor plans – will go to clients of the Experiment in Self-Reliance (ESR), an agency with a long track-record of uplifting the working poor and the homeless. Current public housing residents in HAWS’s People Achieving Their Highest (PATH) program – which strives to break public housing dependency by offering advancement through educational and employment programs – will get first dibs at the remaining units.
City Council Member Derwin Montgomery, whose East Ward includes The Oaks and several other HAWS properties, is pleased that the new units won’t be business as usual for Housing Authority.
“I’m so happy that this housing authority has tried something different,” he said.
Pastor Serenus Churn, whose Mt. Zion Baptist Church is a short stroll away from The Oaks, said the residents of the area have long deserved the housing options that the units will offer. He believes the work requirement will instill a sense of pride in the residents that will, over time, spread through the entire community.
“The concept of work and its rewards will be an enhancement,” he said.
The Oaks is far from the first swank housing complex that HAWS has offered. About a decade ago, the agency received tens of millions of federal HOPE VI dollars to transform the old tenement-style units at Happy Hill Gardens and Kimberly Avenue Homes. The well of federal money has long since dried-up, Woods said, and agencies like HAWS have had to get creative with financing new units and sustaining existing ones. Much of The Oaks’ $5 million price tag was paid for with a bank loan.
All told, more than $10 million will be spent in quick succession on what HAWS has dubbed the “Cleveland Avenue Initiative Masterplan.” The Oaks is the first phase. Camden Station, a $3 million housing complex, will be erected a block away from The Oaks next year. The Greensboro-based owner of Summit Square, which will neighbor The Oaks and Camden Station, has agreed to invest more than $1.5 million in upgrades to its property, said Woods, who is trying to convince other landlords in the area – including the owners of the sprawling Colony Place – to improve their properties.
Units at Cleveland Avenue Homes – one of just two large tenement-style housing communities that HAWS still operates – recently underwent vast kitchen renovations, according to property manager Dee Dee Thomas, and an ongoing partnership between HAWS and Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County is rehabbing single family houses in the vicinity of Cleveland Avenue Homes.
The Masterplan’s long-term vision includes improvements at Cleveland Avenue Homes and Sunrise Towers – the Housing Authority’s dated highrise for seniors that stands near the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. If Woods has his druthers, a new complex for senior citizens will be erected adjacent to The Oaks at a site now occupied by a small church.
Woods has become a national advocate for requiring public housing residents to stand more squarely on their own two feet, having twice spoken passionately on the subject before a Congressional committee in the last two years.
He says the math is simple: housing authorities will not be able to stay economically viable unless they move more people from the subsidized housing rolls to self-sufficiency.
“The whole concept of public housing has to change,” he said adamantly.
With The Oaks paving the way, Woods wants at least 200 of the Housing Authority’s 1,100 units to implement a work requirement in the near future.
For more information about The Oaks, go to www.haws.org or call the agency’s Property Management Office at 336-727-8554.