When the U.S. Congress passed the $350 billion American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year, Virginia received some $4.3 billion.
State lawmakers then carved that up and allocated portions to locales, including Norfolk which received some $154 million dollars of funding under the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRP).
Norfolk and other locales have until 2026 to use that money which originated out of the critical need to address the harm and hardship on citizens inflicted by COVID-19. It was Congress’ response to providing for sustainable programs and services that would make communities stronger, safer, and more resilient. But first communities, large and small, must prioritize and determine what they will spend it on.
There are countless ways cities can use ARP dollars to strengthen communities.
Norfolk has its list of priorities and has posted them on an interactive dashboard on the city’s government website.
Among the 21 priorities listed are the biggest ticket item, a $40 million renovation of Chrysler Hall; various flood control measures and programs; creation of a regional broadband ring; and improvements to various business corridors and neighborhoods overall.
Residents can go still on the website and give their views on those priorities and list ones they would like considered.
City Manager, Chip Filer, accompanied by
city personnel and council members, recently hosted two public hearings in Norfolk to allow citizens to give their views on the city’s list of priorities.
In a display of civic cooperation, city officials participated in an exercise where they formed groups to collectively compile a list of public priorities. Then a member of each group stood before the gathering and shared their findings.
On November 14 at the meeting at the Mary Pretlow Public Library in Ocean View and a week later at Norview, the city manager and other officials on hand were confronted with public discontent over the city’s list.
Amina Matheny-Willard, a Norfolk Civil Rights Attorney, attended the gathering at the Mary Pretlow Library in Ocean View.
“I think we have to start from scratch,” she said. “They developed that list of priorities and apparently they did not consider the views of the people.”
Matheny-Willard, who ran a primary campaign for Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney, said before people got frustrated and began walking out, some 90 people were attending the meeting, and about 70 percent were white.
Councilwoman Andria McClellan, who represents Superward 6, was in attendance.
Willard said when McClellan noted the angst of the people attending the meeting, she apologized to the people.
“It seems like the city manager had compiled the list of priorities,” said Willard. “I think they should start from scratch and include money for COVID-19 response. There is money for gentrified areas like Pretty Lake for dredging? I think the process should be put on pause. We need more public hearings and the city should reach out more to the civic leaders to see their needs.”
Councilman Paul Riddick (Ward 4) said he disagrees with the list of “city priorities” the city has outlined.
“They should take this money and invest and reward our people,” said Riddick. “Why not pave the streets. It’s not in my ward, but Sherwood Forrest is one of the most underserved communities in Norfolk. Why not an aquatic or recreation city for that area?”
Riddick said he opposes the $40 million redevelopment proposal for Chrysler Hall.
Jackie Glass, who recently ran for Superward 7 but fell short, said she is concerned about the lack of outreach to residents to determine the list of priorities.
“During a (Superward 7) candidate forum last June in Middle Towne Arch, the issue of the money was brought up,” she said. “People were asking ‘what were you talking about? The city was not doing a good job of educating people about that money and how it should be spent six months ago. So this is why people are angry.”
Glass said the city should invest some if its recovery funds “into grants for childcare.”
“Many parents need it,” she said. “But it is very expensive and people can’t get back to work because of the cost and access to it. We should be investing in our families and our children.”
Barrett Hicks is a community activist in South Norfolk where the Berkley and Campostella areas have been a focus of his interest.
Hicks said the money should be used to reopen the recreation centers in his area and in other parts of Norfolk. Also, he said that the city should use some of the money to pay recreation fees for poor youth so they can access the facilities.
“I did not see any money to stop the violence and fighting crime,” he said. “Also we need to invest money to provide mental health services to our families which are under stress.”
“Why not use that money to help older homeowners defray taxes,” he said. “Why not invest in affordable house development? ”
Jason Inge, who also ran for the Superward 7 seat, noted that “the city has done a ## job of presenting the priorities and listing ones which directly impact Black and Brown people in this city.”
Inge said additional funds should be devoted to halting the evictions of residents struggling to pay rent because they are still impacted by COVID-19 now and in the future.
“We need subsidies for daycare and investment in affordable housing,” said Inge. “Homelessness and other economic disparities should no longer be placed on the back burner and ignored.”
“Why are we dredging in Pretty Lake for boat ramps for elite white families,” he said, “instead of investing it in the Southside or downtown?”
“We have had 48 murders in our city and most of the victims are Black children,” Inge said. “Why not invest in our children. It is the big Black elephant in the room and they did not know how to resolve issues related to it.”
Steven Dolly who resides in Lindenwood and is a member of that neighborhood’s civic league attended the forum at Norview High School.
He said it was a “good first step toward gathering intel” on the views of residents.
“They said they will take their time to determine how it (the funding) will be spent… but that is to be seen.”
During the exercise where forum participants were grouped to write a list of priorities on spending the federal largesse, Dolly said his group was “consistent and similar to others.”
“Many people wanted to do something about litter…maybe a citywide campaign,” he said. “One man even wanted a direct payment. There was education and finding ways to get parents more involved in the
education of their children.”
“I heard a lot of people talking about reopening the rec centers with more programs,” he said. “I would like to see investment in grants to help create small businesses in Huntersville and Lindenwood. We only have two little outlets in Lindenwood. We need more near Barraud Park and along Tidewater Drive. Every community needs businesses and services.”
In a statement from the city manager issued by Spokesperson Lori Crouch, City Manager Filer noted that residents can give input on the city’s website where nearly 1,000 submissions and text comments had been submitted at that time.
“Also, it appears there is an impression that the list of proposed projects is new or reflects the manager’s list,” Crouch said in her email. “All of these proposed projects came from feedback collected in the manager’s meetings with council over several months. Most of these projects are not new and have been requested by residents previously.
“Council members have been getting feedback during civic league meetings, from constituents directly and at task force meetings for months and Council has shared the information with the manager.
“So, the projects are not new and not final. We hope residents come forward with proposed projects so we can determine if those qualify for the funds.”