Norfolk Will Begin St. Paul's Relocations After Temporary Suspension Due To COVID-19
Norfolk will begin relocating public housing residents in the St. Paul’s area after temporarily suspending move-outs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials with the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority say they’ll issue relocation notices early next week to 45 households in the Tidewater Gardens public housing complex. Another 22 residents will receive the orders in December.
Families will have 120 days to vacate their units after receiving the notices. The move-outs are part of Norfolk’s massive and controversial project to demolish Tidewater Gardens and convert the St. Paul’s public housing neighborhood near downtown into a mixed-income and multi-use community.
City officials say the project will help deconcentrate poverty in the area and give households opportunities to find better housing. But some residents and housing advocates say the redevelopment effort will displace families and force them out of Norfolk.
In the spring, NRHA suspended the relocations and delayed much of the project for 180 days as COVID-19 spread around Hampton Roads. Now that period is over, and the authority says it can’t afford more delays. Officials say they’re working to ensure that residents remain safe as they look for new housing.
“It’s a careful balance that we have to do regarding to ensuring that the families have adequate time particularly now in COVID as well as that we still sort of stay on a schedule,” said Steve Morales, an NRHA project director overseeing the St. Paul’s project.
Morales noted that Norfolk has received a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the St. Paul’s project. The grant’s guidelines require that Norfolk use up the money by 2025, Morales said. The city faces a similar deadline for a large project to respond to sea level rise in the Grandy Village and Chesterfield Heights neighborhoods.
Norfolk is considering lobbying Congress to extend the deadline to use up funding for the St. Paul’s overhaul due to delays caused by the pandemic, Morales said. But the city must still move forward with its plans.
He said NRHA will be flexible with residents who receive move-out notices and will provide them with extensions if needed. The authority will also continue offering families the option of moving to other NRHA housing communities if they struggle to find housing.
“No one is going to be made homeless,” Morales said.
The St. Paul’s redevelopment project has been debated for decades and still faces resistance.
The city is demolishing the 618 units in Tidewater Gardens in phases. It will then move residents out of two other St. Paul’s public housing complexes, Calvert Square and Young Terrace, before bulldozing them.
Altogether, more than 4,000 people will relocate from St. Paul’s. Families will have the option of accepting housing choice vouchers to find somewhere else to live.
The redevelopment effort is expected to take more than a decade and cost more than $1 billion.
In January, several St. Paul’s residents and advocates filed a lawsuit seeking to block the redevelopment plan. The plaintiffs argued it would violate fair housing law by further segregating residents — most of whom are black. A federal judge hasn’t issued a ruling yet.
As the coronavirus began to spread, the plaintiffs then asked the judge in the spring to halt move-outs citing health concerns. Some legal wrangling ultimately led to an agreement between the plaintiffs and Norfolk: the housing authority would temporarily halt relocations and most redevelopment efforts for 180 days.
Monet Johnson is an organizer with the New Virginia Majority — one of the plaintiffs — and advocates for residents opposed to the St. Paul’s overhaul. During an interview, she said there has been no extension of the 180-day suspension. She isn’t surprised that Norfolk will issue notices again, despite the ongoing pandemic.
“The city is failing to realize that these are people that they’re displacing and not just numbers, not just a means to an end,” Johnson said. “I don’t think the city has been dealing in morality and ethics lately.”
Karina Rayeford, who lives in Tidewater Gardens, agreed.
“I understand they had things that were already scheduled to happen. But the fact that we are going through a pandemic,” Rayeford said, “this is the worst time.”
NRHA officials say they will protect residents’ health and safety by moving them out in small groups. Morales noted that families can look for new housing virtually. If COVID cases surge, NRHA may suspend move-outs again, Morales said.
“If there’s a second and third wave and vaccines aren’t in place and things really are not looking good, then of course we will all reevaluate that,” he said.