NORFOLK, Va. – Norfolk city officials say about 68% of the residents who live in Tidewater Gardens have relocated as the St. Paul’s redevelopment housing project continues.
From her door, Clarice Fulford can see the development of the new Market Heights Apartments, a place she’d like to eventually live but isn't sure she'll be able to afford.
“With the income I get, once they check the credit, the background check, I might get it; I might not,” Fulford said.
She said she's struggled to find another apartment with two bedrooms.
The 57-year-old is one of about 4,000 Norfolk residents who are or will be impacted by the St. Paul’s redevelopment project.
The plan has been in the works for years. The city is tearing down public housing units in three neighborhoods, including Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace and Calvert Square.
Demolition started about a year ago in the Tidewater Gardens neighborhood, where the city plans to build new, mixed-income housing.
Residents in Tidewater Gardens, the first phase of the project, have to find a new place to live.
The city spent $3.5 million to hire the non-profit group People First to help make the transition easier for residents. Representatives said they're on the ground every day working to help those impacted make the transition.
April Johnson says she, too, has struggled to find a new place for her family due to the demanding housing market.
“You have people that are trying to find something, and there is nothing available,” Johnson said.
Wanda Peters said she has lived in Tidewater Gardens since 2009. She said she is happy about the redevelopment.
“These buildings have been here before I was born, and they need to be torn down to make the place look better,” Peters said.
But she also said many people don’t want to move away from Downtown Norfolk.
“We are right by everything. It was very convenient for everybody, especially those ones that don’t have a vehicle. We love living in this downtown area,” Peters said.
Housing officials say right now, 68% of residents have relocated from Tidewater Gardens. City officials said of those people, 54% have used Housing Choice Vouchers, 15% have gone to other public housing, 11% have gone to project-based housing, 12% have rented elsewhere and three people were able to purchase homes.
The city just settled a lawsuit filed two years ago by a few impacted residents who claimed the redevelopment project unfairly harmed the African American community and continued a pattern of segregation in the City of Norfolk.
Rodney Jordan is currently on the Norfolk School Board and previously served as the Norfolk Redevelopment Housing Board.
He said the children in the city are directly impacted by plans to redevelop the city. He said he would like to see city leaders do a better job.
“What has traditionally occurred in Norfolk, which I think is happening again, is that we’ve become complacent with segregation,” Jordan said. “We allow for things to deteriorate, and go get funding and do redevelopment based upon the deterioration. We then come in, we displace families. Those families, particularly African American families, largely end up in communities that are also segregated or neighborhoods that may be challenged, and then we celebrate the buildings that come back. I think we missed the mark far too often when it comes to the success of the children and the success of the families.”
He gave a deposition on behalf of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and now calls them heroes for taking the city to court.
He said the community’s standards for excellence are lower for many low-income neighborhoods compared to standards for redevelopment in other areas of the city.
“I think we as policymakers and leaders in the community, we have a lower set of expectations for families whether living here in Young Terrace or other parts of our city, so I think as a result of that we are far too accepting of second-class treatment when it comes to our families,” Jordan said.
Susan Perry, the Norfolk Director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, said, “We were able to come to an agreement that we think will work for all parties.”
Bernard Pishko, Norfolk City Attorney, issued the following statement:
“The City is pleased that the lawsuit challenging the plan for the redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens has been dismissed. The goals of HUD, the NRHA and City (the defendants) were aligned enough with the goals of the plaintiffs to reach an agreement. Tidewater Gardens, which was 600 units of concentrated poverty, will be redeveloped with 700 units of mixed-income housing with approximately one-third traditional public housing, one-third low-income housing where Tidewater Gardens tenants can also choose to relocate and one-third as the market rate. In addition to this replacement housing, public housing will be included in developments in other areas of opportunity. The City looks forward to assisting with the development of this uplifting plan.”
“We are incredibly proud of the progress we are making on the St. Paul’s Transformation and what it will mean for our residents and the whole city of Norfolk. We continue to listen to residents and advocates and incorporate their feedback into our plans, ensuring all eligible Tidewater Gardens residents who want a home in the new St. Paul’s will have the opportunity to be a part of the new community,” said NRHA Executive Director Ronald Jackson.
Sarah Black, the Deputy Director for the group Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, the group who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the citizens also issued a statement:
“We are pleased that the City, its housing authority and HUD have agreed to a settlement that will benefit the residents of Tidewater Gardens and the City and its residents generally. The City has agreed to ensure that every former resident of Tidewater Gardens, will be guaranteed a chance to move back to St Paul’s after it is redeveloped, and increased the number of units available for that purpose, and further will provide financial assistance to assist people to return. The defendants also will increase the value of Housing Choice Vouchers in some areas so that those that choose to use them, will not be confined to areas that are low income and highly segregated. Further, the City has agreed to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against people who use vouchers to find housing. These are just a few of the provisions of the settlement that will further fair housing in Norfolk. We also appreciate that the federal judge assigned to the case agreed to retain jurisdiction to decide questions that might arise concerning compliance with our agreement. Monet Johnson, lead Housing Justice Organizer for the plaintiff New Virginia Majority, said that “the agreement shows that tenants working together can win real change and advance, racial, economic and housing justice.”
“I believe in healthy neighborhoods and I believe we need to have more mixed-income neighborhoods so families of all backgrounds can come together and work together and prosper,” Jordan said.