Norfolk City Councilman Paul Riddick has sent a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) demanding the agency “defer” or reject his city’s application for a $30 million redevelopment grant.
The grant Riddick opposes, called the Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI) Grant, would fund programs to help relocate public housing residents from the St. Paul’s Redevelopment Project area downtown.
Norfolk’s St. Paul’s Project calls for the razing of three existing public housing communities – Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace and Calvert Square – over the next two or more decades. The land would be repurposed and redeveloped, beginning with Tidewater Gardens.
The CNI Grant would fund the bulk of projects in the city’s “People First Initiative,” which along with money set aside by the city and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA), would pay for various housing and support programs to help residents to relocate to other public and private housing.
During a press conference Riddick called Monday (Jan. 8) at the Historic Hunton YMCA, located in Tidewater Gardens, the Councilman explained the reasons for his efforts.
The press conference was attended by members of the media, a number of residents living in the public housing communities, and representatives of advocacy groups who also have concern about the massive redevelopment project.
Before the press conference, Riddick released a letter dated December 29, 2018, to Joseph J. DeFelice, Regional Director of HUD in Philadelphia.
Councilman Riddick is the only member of the Norfolk City Council to vote against the project. Asked about the reaction of his colleagues to his letter, Riddick replied, “They said I have stabbed them in the back. But they knew I had concerns and disagreed with this project.”
Riddick said if HUD rejects his plea, he would “take to the streets” with people who support his view, which triggered applause from those in attendance.
Riddick and Councilwoman Angelia Williams-Graves co-chair the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the St. Paul’s Project. Composed also of residents, church leaders, business people and leaders of nonprofit agencies in the area, it is designed to advise and help coordinate the St. Paul’s Project.
Since its first meeting early last year, Riddick has expressed concerns about the project, which he deems a continuation of past urban gentrification projects undertaken in East Ghent, Berkley, Huntersville, and Broadcreek where he lives.
Many of the poor and Black residents were moved out of the affected areas before the housing was bulldozed. Told they could return, many could not because of the rise in the cost of rent.
Apart from displacing the poor and Black residents, Riddick has complained about the lack of African-Americans among contractors which have been recruited to share in the wealth generated by St. Paul’s and previous projects.
Last October, during a meeting of the Advisory Committee, Riddick made comments about the lack of Black contractor participation in a development effort which would be one of the largest on the East Coast.
During the early meeting of the Advisory Committee, Riddick threat-ened to send a letter to urge HUD to slow down redevelopment efforts or reject them outright.
Riddick told HUD he “supports the intent of the project, but he does not believe the process is being done fairly”.
Riddick is displeased with the selection of Brinshore Develop-ment out of Chicago as the Master Contractor. It was selected last summer to oversee the demolition and rebuilding on the Tidewater Gardens site which has 618 units and thousands of residents.
The Illinois-based company has redeveloped many public housing sites, including the famed Chicago housing project Cabrini Green.
But the main subcontractor in the Master Developer partnership is the Franklin-Johnston development company based in Virginia Beach, Va.. The operator has more than 85 properties (totaling about 14,000 apartment homes) under management in seven states along the East Coast, according to its website.
Riddick said this company is an offshoot of the S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co. of Norfolk, which has a large footprint in Hampton Roads.
Riddick said no effort was made to “widen the net” to assure a Black or another minority group could effectively compete for the bid to become the Master Developer.
He called this action reflective of a huge “generational transfer of wealth.”
“The previous gentrification or redevelopment projects were conducted by an older generation of white developers and Blacks were not involved at all,” he told the GUIDE before the press conference began at the Hunton. “Now there is a new generation which will do the same thing. There seems to be no effort to include Black people as a main player in this project.”
Riddick said there are Black developers in Raleigh, N.C. who expressed interest in the St. Paul’s Project but their overtures were ignored.
In the December 29 letter to HUD, Riddick said, “I would go as far as to say that some of the members of the selection team were complicit in making sure the proposed Master Developer had an inside track.”
Riddick said the selection committee was made up of officials from NRHA, the Norfolk City Planning Committee and the city.
“Secondly,” he wrote, “the committee that was selected to evaluate applications had no real experience in evaluating a developer at this level or for a project of this magnitude. The proposed Master Developer has identified local partners that have historical ties to the power elite of Norfolk to share equally in the first phase of this project.”
By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide