NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – St. Paul’s residents rallied at Norfolk City Hall Wednesday, calling on the mayor to answer their request that no public housing be demolished until replacement housing is developed.
This is just the latest demonstration, over the city’s plans to rid downtown Norfolk of aging public housing complexes — and replace them with mixed-income communities.
Norfolk residents sued the housing authority over the St. Paul’s redevelopment plans in January this year.
The 51-page complaint begins by detailing what it calls Norfolk’s “long and indisputable history of racial segregation.” It alleges the plan to redevelop the St. Paul’s Quadrant would further segregate and disadvantage black residents in violation of federal law.
The situation got emotional Wednesday when residents who live in the St. Paul’s area of Norfolk took the mic to speak on their own experience. Leaders of the protest said the takeaway is that they want to see the area grow — but not at the expense of the current residents.
“I am tired and I have experienced personal loss. I got laid off from my job, you know how much my unemployment check was last week? $58,” said Lavonne Pledger, who spoke loud and clear Wednesday hoping someone could hear his cry.
Pledger is a resident of Youngs Terrace, one of neighborhoods that will change with the redevelopment housing plan. The plan includes several-story buildings with storefronts, housing specifically for seniors, and more traditional one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Pledger lost his job in the pandemic and fears for his family’s livelihood.
“People are getting out of their homes, they’re getting displaced, and I don’t know what I am going to do personally,” he said.
His cry for help followed a list of people at the Norfolk City Hall asking for a response from the mayor about their ongoing concerns over the redevelopment plan.
“We had a meeting scheduled with the mayor. He had us on the books to listen to the residents, the people he was elected to represent and then decided to cancel the meeting, but we think the residents’ voices still matter,” said Monet Johnson, with the New Virginia Majority.
She said they sent a letter to the mayor asking again for replacement housing before demolishing current housing.
“We need attention to the maintenance in these areas, respect for the residents, replacement homes — all those sorts of things in addition to a statewide campaign to extend the eviction moratorium, as well as increase the mortgage and rent relief effort,” she explained.
Titayna Gaynor says there is an opportunity to make a difference. She hopes local leaders hear them out.
“Everyone deserves a place to live. Somewhere that is safe, somewhere that is affordable and somewhere where their children can grow,” she said.
We reached out to the city for comment on the letter that the protesters say has not received a response. We have not heard back from the city.
On any other matter regarding the redevelopment plans, the city has said it will not speak due to the pending litigation.
However last year, the spokeswoman for the project has reiterated, nobody will be kicked out.
“If you don’t have new housing by [your move out day], then you stay where you are,” Barbara Hamm Lee said in February 2019. “It means that we will work with you until we find you suitable housing, Nobody is going to be kicked out on the street. That will do no good for anyone, not for the city of Norfolk, not for NRHA.”
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