Larry Woods, CEO of the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, shared a harsh vision of the future of public housing in Winston-Salem as a guest at a constituent meeting held by East Ward Councilman Derwin Montgomery at Shiloh Baptist Church tonight.
Speaking to about 25 East Ward residents, many of whom are lower income or middle class, retired or working and neighbors of public housing residents, Woods described a “step-up housing” program the agency will roll out next month that will cater to public housing residents who are working full-time and want to move off of government assistance and potentially become homeowners. Woods presented the initiative as an opportunity for public housing residents who recognize that the days of government assistance are limited and want to get out in front of the draw-down.
“Free housing is not going to be here anymore,” Woods said. “You need to get a grip on it. The country’s going broke.”
Woods said the housing authority will begin orientation and family assessments in September. The agency is targeting Cleveland Avenue Homes, Crystal Towers, Piedmont Park Apartments and Sunrise Towers, and will hold community meetings to notify residents of the opportunity. He said the agency’s goal is to create 150 to 200 units at the Oaks at Tenth community for the initiative.
Some audience members challenged Woods on the consequences of the federal government cutting off housing assistance to people without jobs, asking whether the government would guarantee employment, and if the action wouldn’t cause a massive wave of homelessness and explosion of crime. Woods responded that the government would provide training until the residents could find work, but the answer appeared to leave many unsatisfied.
“The federal government’s going broke,” Woods said. “I don’t care who is the president. This country is going broke. The country is trillions of dollars in debt. No one is going to raise taxes. This country is not going to cut spending on the military. So what’s left? Social services. They’re already talking about cutting food stamps. If you don’t think they’re going to cut housing, they’re going to cut housing.”
Maionne Flowers, vice-president of the Rolling Hills Neighborhood Association, suggested the scenario Woods described is unworkable and would result in an increase in crime.
“The economy is bad now,” she said after the meeting. “If you actually think you’re going to push people out of housing if they can’t get a job, it’s going to be a war zone. They’re going to have a war in Winston because people are going to be crazy.”
Montgomery, the East Ward representative, was more receptive to Woods’ message.
“One of the biggest hurdles to us getting employment is not having skills,” he said. “And then being willing to do certain jobs. A lot of times we think we’re too good for those type of jobs. But if you want to make a living, you’ll work.”