Mandatory move-outs halted, but Norfolk leaders say demolition of public housing could still move forward this year

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As it has on almost everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed parts of the plan to rid downtown Norfolk of aging public housing complexes — and replace them with mixed-income communities.

The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority told residents in a letter last month that because of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the redevelopment plans are being delayed.

“There is no requirement that you look for alternate housing, move, or use any relocation services during the next six months,” the notice read.

Meaning: It is unknown when exactly the visual effects of the multimillion-dollar transformation project may actually be seen.

When residents living in nearly 200 units of the Tidewater Gardens community learned in August 2018 that they’d be among the first to have to relocate, a rough timeline estimated demolition would begin in mid-2020.

However, then the longest government shutdown in modern U.S. history closed the federal Housing and Urban Development office, a lawsuit was filed by residents claiming the redevelopment plans are racist and now a worldwide pandemic has restricted people’s movement.

“We have had a few bumps in the road,” said Councilwoman Angelia Graves Williams, who represents all three St. Paul’s public housing communities as part of her superward. “Certainly we weren’t going to force people to move during a pandemic. HUD put a freeze on rent and collections and things of that nature anyway. So, this really isn’t that big of a hiccup in terms of how we move forward. We are still working.”

Last year, HUD awarded NRHA $30 million as part of its Choice Neighborhood Initiative grants, to tear down the 618-unit Tidewater Gardens. To prepare, residents must move. A resident can either choose to relocate to another NRHA property or take a voucher and live in privately-owned section 8 housing.

Currently, 30 percent of the community is already vacant, with Williams Graves saying many people left on their own.

As part of an agreement made in court, demolition could proceed with several buildings in the phase 1 plan if residents voluntarily move out.

“We will continue to work with residents with People First to make all transitions,” Williams Graves said.

People First is an effort launched by the city and run by St. Louis based Urban Strategies, Inc. to aid in the relocation of 1,700 families.

In January 2018, Norfolk City Council voted to have the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority move ahead with plans to eventually level the Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace and Calvert Square public housing complexes — 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.

But the program will not be able to use $1.8 million it originally was going to have this coming year.

On Tuesday night, Norfolk City Council voted to transfer the money to help cover operating costs. The city forecasted a $40 million shortfall due to COVID-19.

“It is a part of a sacrifice that everybody in the city has had to make in order to work through,” Williams Graves said.

She explained because of saving from other parts of the People First operation, the level of service shouldn’t change.

“Just know, it is only one year of delayed funds.”


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