The Housing Authority of Winston-Salem’s innovative approach to public housing is turning heads, not only in the local community, but across the nation.
HAWS CEO Larry Woods said he was shocked to learn late last month that U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx was singing the praises of Woods and his agency on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.
“Under Larry’s leadership, the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem is transforming the template for North Carolina’s housing programs,” Foxx told her colleagues. “… Larry and his team’s forward-thinking approach to public housing has changed the lives of many North Carolinians.”
Woods, who has led the agency since 2006, said he was humbled by Foxx’s inclination to hold HAWS up as a shining example of how fiscal responsibility and social programs can live in harmony.
“To be recognized on the floor of Congress is a tremendous accomplishment. It speaks volumes of how far we’ve come since I arrived,” he said. “…We took a different approach than what the previous administration has done, and it seems to be working out well so far.”
Foxx, who represents North Carolina’s Fifth District, followed up last week with a visit to the HAWS offices in the Loewy Building on Fourth Street, where she presented Woods with a plaque inscribed with the comments she made on the floor on Nov. 25.
“People who know me will tell you I only say things I really believe,” she told the audience of HAWS employees and stakeholders that gathered for the presentation on Dec. 18. “I’m really, really high on what you all are doing and I want to commend you for it.”
The Housing Authority recently completed construction of The Oaks on Tenth, a 50-unit facility HAWS is touting as “Step-Up” housing for residents on public assistance. Many of the tenants there are a part of HAWS’s PATH (People Achieving Their Highest) program, which connects Housing Authority clients with existing services in the community in an effort to increase self-sufficiency. Foxx said she has long been a fan of Woods’ unconventional approach to providing services to the local community, and she was “blown away” by the concept of PATH, which Woods and HAWS Vice President and Chief Development Officer Katrina Redmon first introduced to Foxx and her Chief of Staff Brandon Renz over five years ago.
“There aren’t two people that are more proud and more pleased about what’s happening here at the Housing Authority than Brandon Renz and me, so I decided it was time to tell the world about it,” Foxx said.
Redmon said she was grateful for the support and exposure that Foxx has given to the agency and its work.
“It’s very, very humbling. It’s been a lot of work, and we welcome any recognition for our efforts in the city,” she remarked. “…That it’s a worthwhile program, a remarkable program worthy of recognition, we want to tout that. We’re hoping that it’ll open other doors for us.”
Unlike other facilities under the HAWS umbrella, there is a work requirement for tenants at The Oaks, which features hardwood floors, washer/dryer units and private entrances to each residence.
“PATH will help us address the backlog of people awaiting public housing,” said Woods, noting that many HAWS clients wait for years for housing to open up. “Helping families become more self-reliant and reducing their dependency on subsidized housing means that we can help people on our waiting list enjoy the same type of benefits, and that is our ultimate goal.”
The Oaks, which is the first project of its kind in the city, is slated to open its doors to tenants in February, and the Housing Authority is already hard at work preparing other Step Up properties. Construction is slated to begin in the spring on Camden Station, a $3 million project on the corner of Twelfth Street and Cleveland Avenue that will offer 30 Step Up units to HAWS tenants, and Stoney Glen – a total rehabilitation project that will be home to 48 Step Up units – is slated to open in May. The properties offer a transitional option for tenants that HAWS had previously lacked, an important component in helping their clients to transition successfully to market rate housing, HAWS officials said.
“We hope that this type of environment will allow them to realize that their dreams can become a reality,” Redmon said.
Foxx’s comments have piqued the interest of other housing authorities around the country; Woods said several agencies have already contacted him to learn about the best practices he is employing here in the Twin City. Step Up housing is just one component in a Masterplan for development in the area that Woods believes will someday help to make the city a better place to live, work and play.
“We’re trying to do something that benefits the entire community and not just public housing – that makes us different (from other housing authorities) as well,” he noted. “We see public housing as part of the fabric of the city and not just an entity onto itself.”
For more information about HAWS or the PATH program, visit www.haws.org or call 336-727-8500.