NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — One Norfolk councilman is requesting the federal government to deny the city a $30 million grant that would help pay for the redevelopment of several public housing communities.
In a letter written on December 29, longtime Norfolk Councilman Paul Riddick asks that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “defer a decision on (or reject) the City of Norfolk’s application for a CNI grant until the next round of applications is considered.”
In September, Norfolk’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NHRA) applied for a HUD Choice Neighborhood Initiative Implementation Grant, worth $30 million, in order to start with the redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens. The 618 unit public housing complex that borders downtown Norfolk is the first of three public housing complexes the city plans to demolish and replace them with mixed-income communities.
The goal is to increase the quality of life for residents and leave behind the neighborhoods’ poverty-stricken past. Riddick was the only councilor in January 2018 to vote “no” on the overhaul.
“While I support the intent of the project, I do not believe that the process is being done fairly,” Riddick wrote in his letter.
In a meeting at the William A. Hunton YMCA Monday afternoon, Riddick, whose district encompasses all three housing communities involved, told community members he takes issue with the selection of the “master developer.”
Classified as the lead housing developer by the NRHA, the city bid documents for the position state the chosen developer will be responsible for overseeing the implementing of the city plan.
After a public bid process, an evaluation committee made up NRHA and city staff awarded the contract to Illinois-based Brinshore Development, according to an NRHA spokeswoman.
However, what Riddick focused in on was Brinshore’s selection of the Virginia Beach-based The Franklin Johnston Group as one of the local partner developers.
“I’m saying that is a slap in our face.” Riddick said. “It’s an effort to continue generational wealth of the power elite of Norfolk.”
Riddick accuses some of the members of the section team of being complicit in making sure Franklin Johnston had a seat at the table.
“I don’t think they made a valiant effort to include African American applicants,” Riddick said. “And this project will affect 99 percent African Americans, and I think that we need to share in this.”
Riddick is calling for the selection for a lead housing developer to be redone.
While neither the city nor NRHA had a comment on Riddick’s accusations, a spokeswoman for NRHA pointed out that Riddick was invited to provide input to the selection of the lead housing developer.
“Eight firms submitted bids,” Jenn Moore, with NRHA said. “The evaluation committee narrowed it down to four qualified applicants, one of which included an African American women-owned group.”
The chosen developer is also required to use their “best efforts to afford minority and women-owned business enterprises the maximum practicable opportunity to participate in the performance of the activities covered by this Contract,” according to bid paperwork.
NRHA has repeatedly said they will move forward with the project even if the grant money isn’t awarded.
“My council members called me today and told me I stabbed them in the back,” Riddick said. “If we cannot share equally in this project. I don’t want it to exist at all.”
HUD has yet to respond to Riddick, offices are closed due to the government shutdown.
Read Riddick’s full letter below.