Norfolk settles lawsuit over St. Paul’s redevelopment
The settlement cements the ability of public housing residents to return to the redeveloped neighborhoods, pushes the city to enact and follow through on efforts to boost housing affordability and says that the city has to study whether future St. Paul’s redevelopments will perpetuate segregation based on race.
The parties agreed on the settlement earlier this month. The city will pay out $200,000 to the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit was filed in January2020 by residents of Tidewater Gardens, the first neighborhood set to be torn down, along with several advocate groups.
They argued that the plan for redeveloping the public housing near Downtown Norfolk violated the federal Fair Housing Act by failing to provide sufficient housing for those moved out and reinforcing racial segregation in the city based on where those residents - almost entirely Black - were moving to.
A Virginian-Pilot investigation published early this year found that the bulk of those moving out of the St. Paul’s area ended up in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods, following patterns of racial segregation that still plague Norfolk today.
The terms of the settlement agreement are primarily concerned with ensuring that those being moved out of Tidewater Gardens will have the ability to return to the redeveloped neighborhood. It includes paying residents’ deposits, moving fees and other costs.
The settlement also lays out the number and mix of different units and forms of rental assistance that will be available in the redeveloped neighborhood.
The city and housing authority have long talked about guarantees for residents to return. But Norfolk City Council didn’t adopt specific language about the right for Tidewater Gardens residents to return until November 2020, 10 months after the lawsuit was filed and nearly three years after the council originally authorized the redevelopment.
The settlement includes several measures Norfolk must undertake to improve housing affordability in the city at large, including building at least two housing developments beyond St. Paul’s that include units with rental assistance.
It also calls on Norfolk to enforce so-called “source-of-income protections.” It means landlords can’t turn down people who use housing vouchers, or Section 8, just because that’s they’ll pay the rent.
That kind of discrimination is already illegal under state law, but voucher users and housing advocates say rejections based on source of income still happen in the private housing market.
Most of the settlement is specific to Tidewater Gardens, the public housing being torn down now. But there are two other neighborhoods nearby expected to be redeveloped sometime in the next several years as part of the larger project - Calvert Square and Young Terrace, home to more than 2,000 people.
The settlement agreement says the city and housing authority must make a report to the plaintiffs before requesting to tear down those neighborhoods.
That report needs to determine whether the redevelopment plan will perpetuate racial segregation in Norfolk and if there’s an alternative plan that could be used to avoid discriminatory effect.
While the settlement has been agreed on by the parties, it still needs to be approved by a federal judge before it goes into effect.
Norfolk City Attorney Bernard Pishko said the city was happy to have reached an agreement.
“The City looks forward to the development of this uplifting plan,” Pishko said in a statement.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to comment until the settlement had been approved.
WHRO Host Barbara Hamm Lee is a spokesperson for the St. Paul’s revitalization project. She is not involved with coverage of the neighborhood and WHRO reports on the project independently.