Public housing predicament: How will Norfolk families being relocated, on wait list find housing?

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Over the next couple of years, the sight of Downtown Norfolk will change.

The city has plans to redevelop the St. Paul’s area by tearing down three public housing communities, starting with Tidewater Gardens. It houses 618 families and was built in the mid-1950s.

All the tenants will need to move as a result of the project.

“The communities are in need of repair,” said Kim Thomas, who is the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority interim community engagement officer.

Thomas says old age and natural occurrences like flooding contributed to the need for the project.

RELATED: New renderings revealed in Norfolk’s St. Paul’s redevelopment

Relocation will come in phases, and NHRA says they’re working to make sure families will be ready to go when the time comes.

“One of the things NHRA is working hard toward making sure we get truthful or factual information out to the community. That’s what hurts the process,” Thomas said.

“When we have a lot of perception about what’s going on and not a clear understanding, then that beckons to me we need to have more conversation. So we’re doing just that. We’re having community meetings.”

They also recently opened People First Offices in Tidewater Gardens, where residents can discuss their moving options.

RELATED: Residents get help from advocacy group

Those include using housing choice vouchers, which can be used anywhere in the country, to leave permanently, using the voucher to temporarily leave so the resident can return once the project is complete, and moving temporarily or permanently into another public housing community.

But according to NRHA, there are already around 1,800 people waiting on the public housing list.

Despite those numbers, the first priority would be to get St. Paul’s residents relocated.

“Any resident that is in any community that is going to be affected by the transformation or relocation activity would rise to the top to be housed fires,” she said.

Lavonne Pledger, who lives in Young Terrace and was previously on the tenant management council, says families living outside the community will feel the effects.

“You’ve been living and surviving in Norfolk, couch surfing, you and your family couch surfing from home to you and you continue to find yourself in an apartment and not be able to afford that apartment after the first six months, you now have to wait who knows how long until your name comes back up on that list,” he said.

NRHA is in charge of 12 housing communities in the city which have a 99 percent occupancy rate, according to Thomas.

But NRHA says Grandy Village will be opening 70 new units by the end of the year.

And, trends are changing, according to Thomas.

She says nationally less funding is going toward public housing and is increasing for housing choice vouchers.

The majority of those living in Tidewater Gardens stated they wanted to use vouchers Thomas said.

The city is waiting to hear back on a $35 million HUD Choice Neighborhood Initiative Grant for the St. Paul’s Redevelopment Project.

If everything works out timely, residents assigned to the first relocation wave in Tidewater Gardens could get their vacate notices this summer.

Thomas says they’re required to give them a more than 120 day notice and will work with residents if they have difficulties finding housing even those days come and go.

Residents won’t be kicked out but if they can’t find places to live with vouchers, they would be relocated to another public housing community while they continue to look, Thomas says. 

Pledger believes it will be difficult for some to find housing outside the community.

Norfolk has 48 percent of public housing in the region, despite only contributing to about 17% of the region’s population, according to a 2016 city study.

The city also has about a 5% rental vacancy rate.

Pledger hopes to stay here and eventually be a homeowner in the new St. Paul’s area.

“It’s where I call home. It’s in the heart of our beautiful city. There are so many things I’ve come to enjoy here,” he said.

But to make sure that happens, he wants residents’ voices to be heard so they can get the opportunities the neighborhood is changing for.

“We want to put in this work. I want to see our neighbors being hired as counselors and peer groups. I want to see neighbors helping neighbors, building and signing contracts. I want to see an equitable and fair process to my community.

NRHA says it plans on bringing back housing for residents who do want to return to the area.

200 units will be built for public housing on the old location of Tidewater Gardens or in the nearby vicinity and more than 300 vouchers will be given out for sites close by.

There will also be 280 affordable housing options in the area as well.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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