NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Norfolk’s plans to redevelop St. Paul’s public housing complexes.
The final order was issued on Tuesday after the two sides reached an agreement to move forward, which includes ensuring that all current residents of the Tidewater Gardens public housing complex – the first to be demolished – who wish to return to the area after the redevelopment, will have the opportunity to do so.
The decision ends nearly two years of litigation brought by a group of New Virginia majority social housing residents and progressive advocates. They claimed the nearly 200-acre Norfolk city center redevelopment plans were ‘nothing but racist’ because they would again concentrate poverty in other poor neighborhoods.
Work has been underway since January 2018 when Norfolk City Council voted for the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) to move forward with plans to eventually level the downtown public housing complexes of Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace and Calvert Square and replace them with mixed-income communities.
The goal is to improve the quality of life for the 1,700 families currently living in the aging community of St. Paul and leaving behind the neighborhood’s past of poverty.
Although the NRHA said long before the lawsuit was filed that no one would become homeless as a result of the redevelopment efforts, the terms of the severance agreement reaffirms public payment for relocation efforts. A resident can either choose to move to another NRHA property or take out a voucher and live in private Section 8 accommodation.
Under the agreement, the city is asked to step up its efforts to ensure that these vouchers are accepted in all areas of “opportunity”. The city council will have to pass “an income discrimination ordinance”. Essentially, the plaintiffs want to make sure landlords aren’t turning away potential tenants because they’ll be paying rent with housing vouchers.
In a Dec. 16 press release on the settlement, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority said it, along with the City of Norfolk, “will continue to provide strong support for the relocation of residents of Tidewater Gardens as they transition to new housing, including case management.”
At Tidewater Gardens, the NRHA said more than 67% of residents have left, 214 of 618 units have already been razed.
The settlement agreement stipulated that at least 260 of the rebuilt units on the site were to be set aside specifically for public housing residents, 34 more than the original redevelopment plan. The NRHA said the City of Norfolk and the NRHA will “make good faith efforts” to support the development of an additional 95 offsite project-based voucher units over the next seven years. Current plans call for approximately 700 replacement homes for Tidewater Gardens, split equally between social housing, affordable housing and market price.
The NRHA and the city will need to continue their communication with the plaintiffs before beginning to demolish St. Paul’s other two public housing communities.
A report by the city will need to answer two main questions: whether the redevelopment plan will “perpetuate segregation in Norfolk” and whether there is an alternative plan that could be used to avoid discrimination.
In terms of money, the city will pay plaintiffs $200,000 but not pay their legal and attorney fees.
In a statement, Norfolk City Attorney Bernard Pishko welcomed the dismissal and the settlement reached.
“The City is pleased that the lawsuit challenging the Tidewater Gardens redevelopment plan has been dismissed. The goals of HUD, NRHA and City (the defendants) were sufficiently aligned with the plaintiffs’ goals to reach an agreement,” Pishko said. “The City is pleased to contribute to the development of this inspiring plan. »
“This settlement means three very important things for our community. First, it reaffirms our commitment to the residents of Tidewater Gardens and the future generations of families who will grow and prosper in the redeveloped community. Second, it ratifies the redevelopment vision jointly created by the residents of Tidewater Gardens, stakeholders, the City of Norfolk and the NRHA. Third, it is time to move forward and focus our full attention on making this transformation a reality,” NRHA Executive Director Ronald Jackson said in the NRHA press release. of December 16.
Construction on replacement units is expected to begin in the coming months around the Norfolk Transportation Center.
The whole project is supported by a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The colony makes some minor changes to the redevelopment plan. These include:
- NRHA to Increase Purchasing Power of Housing Choice Vouchers in Two ZIP Codes
- The city will also retain the services of a consultant who will evaluate and advise the People First Program
No complainants responded to 10 On Your Side’s request for comment.