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Talks Underway To Raze Three Norfolk Public Housing Areas

The city of Norfolk and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) are studying an agreement to redevelop land near the city’s downtown. The plan would coordinate the role and the strategy of each in the upcoming redevelopment of three public housing communities and adjacent land downtown.

On June 27, NRHA officials presented the “Cooperation Agreement” for the Newton’s Creek-St. Paul’s Area Redevelopment” to Norfolk Council members at their working session.

According to various sources, the document will be studied and adjusted by the City Manager, City Council, NRHA officials and may be voted on during the July 18 session of the council.

The 10-page document outlines the city’s and NRHA’s combined efforts to “improve the Newton Creek-St. Paul’s Areas and the living conditions for the residents in the Young Terrace, Calvert Square and Tidewater Gardens communities.”

A source close to the development area for NRHA said plans to implement the effort have already begun, and will take at least a decade or more to complete.

This was verified by more than one member on Council and the NRHA board and Ed Ware, the Communications Director for NRHA. The most recent redevelopment effort would be powered by $14 million in capital improvement funds the city has squirreled away and will allow for the demolition part of the project which may begin as early as 2018.

For years the redevelopment of the “St. Paul’s Quadrant Project” has been discussed which singles out the Tidewater Gardens public housing community.

Under the new plan, three public housing communities are listed.

“St. Paul’s” calls for the eventual relocation of the residents of the Tidewater Gardens public housing community, razing and then the construction of a multi-income housing community with commercial and recreational options.

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Ware said it is still “under consideration” which of the three public housing communities will be targeted for redevelopment first under the new plan.

According to the wording of the proposed agreement, the plan is geared toward the city’s longstanding effort to alleviate the concentrations of poverty throughout the city, especially near the downtown business district, and “provid(ing) better housing choices and enhanced opportunities of lifelong success will be one of the most important components of the plan.”

Once the current agreement is signed, the redevelopment effort will shift into first gear with various pre-development efforts.

NRHA will apply for “Tenant Protection Vouchers” which will be used to help tenants in the public housing units to move to rental units elsewhere in the city.

Ware said recent surveys of targeted public housing unit occupants indicate that many of them would prefer to acquire a voucher to move elsewhere. He said the city and NRHA’s relocation plan will be seek to disburse the exiting public housing residents to a broad range of neighborhoods in Norfolk or a city of choice of the exiting occupant.

Black political and civic leaders have long talked about the crime plagued and economically weak parts of the city or “pockets of poverty” inhabited mostly by poor and Black people. The city says it wants to change this historic trend.

But there is a fear among the residents, and some city and civic leaders in the Black and White communities, that redevelopment projects may steer many of these low income residents from public housing to traditionally Black neighborhoods such as Huntersville or Berkley.

Further, leaders of fragile, and traditionally Black neighborhoods, such as Lindenwood and others, also fear the exportation of crime and other problems to their communities.

Leaders of these communities have said they don’t mind absorbing a share of the existing residents from the redevelopment areas. But they are seeking stable individuals who want to be homeowners or renters attracted to their neighborhoods because of improved infrastructure, security and commercial investment.

Further, some persons say there are stable neighborhoods where landlords with rental property are “on guard” and screening for individuals and families who are relocating from public housing to their neighborhoods and are poised to deny them occupancy, despite the assured income of a voucher.

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Ware said the city will seek to pace the relocation and carefully assure the fair distribution of the families and individuals throughout the city, based on the ability of the city’s housing market to absorb them.

While Norfolk Council and the NRHA Board will be studying and revising the proposed document, already there are some reactions to it by people who have read the details City Councilman Paul Riddick, the longest serving member of the council, says he has seen the redevelopment efforts which have razed many historically Black neighborhoods and dispersed the residents, and he has concerns.

He was the most candid and vocal critic of the new plan, according to sources during the June 27 working session of Council where he expressed his longstanding fears and concerns.

“I really do not trust them,” he said during an interview with the GUIDE, referring to city policy and the NRHA planners. “It’s called gentrification. And I do not think the city nor NRHA has a commitment to the current residents.”

Riddick said he had questions about where the city acquired the $14 million for the demolition of the communities it has targeted. Riddick said he would apply a 7 and 7 strategy: $7 million toward demolition, and $7 million toward redevelopment, using land near the designated development site for housing and other purposes.

“I would identify city and NRHA land and build suitable housing before the brick is removed,” Riddick said. “I would first rebuild housing for seniors. I would also build a new Tidewater Park Elementary and Hunton YMCA (which sit near Tidewater Gardens) to serve as anchors (for the proposed new development).”

Riddick said a city parking lot where the Snyder Department Store once stood at the corner of St. Paul’s Boulevard and City Hall Avenue, across from the new court house, could be used to build housing for seniors.

Ware said current housing tenants will have the options of securing housing in the new development, or acquiring assistance of varying kind to relocate into private rental properties.
One feature of the relocation effort, which Ware said may begin within the next year, is called “Unhousing.” Once a family or individual moves from a public housing unit, it will not be reoccupied.

Portions of the public housing communities which are being targeted by the new plan, notably Tidewater Gardens, sit on land prone to flooding. It was built on what was a dried up body of water called Newton Creek over 65 years ago.

So planners envision using land where housing sits in Tidewater Gardens as new roads to be used from commuters heading downtown, to improve traffic flow from busy thoroughfares from the interstate and Tidewater Drive.

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Ware said that the most flood-prone sections of the new development will be used as green space parks and wetlands instead of housing.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

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