Norfolk holds groundbreaking for Tidewater Gardens Transformation Project

NORFOLK, Va. – It’s a major development in the City of Norfolk Tuesday as city officials held a groundbreaking celebration for the Tidewater Gardens Transformation Project.

City officials say the city, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RHA) and a host of officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gathered for the first phase of a long-awaited initiative in the St. Paul’s community.

“Transforming Tidewater Gardens is about more than bricks and mortar,” Mayor Kenny Alexander said. “This redevelopment initiative is about transforming lives with a holistic approach that uplifts families today and provides hope for better tomorrows.”

The News 3 Investigative team has been covering the changes taking place at St. Paul’s for years.

In December, we spoke to Clarice Fulford, who could see the development of the new Market Heights Apartments from her front door. She said the new apartments are a place she’d like to eventually live but isn’t sure she’ll be able to afford.

“With the income I get, once they check the credit, the background check, I might get it; I might not,” Fulford said.

The 57-year-old is one of about 4,000 Norfolk residents who are or will be impacted by the St. Paul’s Redevelopment Project.

The plan has been in the works for years. The city is tearing down public housing units in three neighborhoods, including Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace and Calvert Square.

Demolition started about a year ago in the Tidewater Gardens neighborhood, where the city plans to build new, mixed-income housing.

Residents in Tidewater Gardens, the first phase of the project, have to find a new place to live.

The city spent $3.5 million to hire the non-profit group People First to help make the transition easier for residents. Representatives said they’re on the ground every day working to help those impacted make the transition.

A few months ago, the city settled a lawsuit for $200,000 filed two years ago by a few impacted residents who claimed the redevelopment project unfairly harmed the African American community and continued a pattern of segregation in the city. It also came with changes to the voucher program.

City officials said Tidewater Gardens is scheduled for completion by 2025. The first of the two housing block developments, currently referred to as Blocks 19 and 20, is located on Wood Street between St. Paul’s Boulevard and Fenchurch Street.

They said Block 19 will consist of a 72-unit, four-story senior living apartment building with a variety of one and two-bedroom units; an amenity space with a community room kitchen; fitness room; computer lab; classrooms for service providers and a conference room with on-site management and parking.

Block 20 will be a 120-unit family development with one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, in addition to 3,600 sq. ft. of indoor community and amenity space; an outdoor gathering space; a playground and on-site parking. It also includes 7,300 sq. ft. of retail space along a realigned Church Street that will provide a commercial storefront for rent by neighborhood and community-serving groups.

A Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI) grant provided by HUD guarantees the original families the right to return to the revitalized community if they choose, a measure that has been supported by both city policy and NRHA resolution that guarantees them the right, according to city officials.

They said while construction is underway, families have been relocated to either temporary or permanent housing, depending on their personal choice, with financial support from both the city and NRHA. The city said $3.5 million per year has been earmarked through 2025 to provide both relocation support and holistic services to families in the areas of housing stability, education, economic mobility and health and wellness.

NRHA has provided funding to cover moving expenses, security and utility deposits and will do so for those moving back as well, according to the city.

These relocation services are being administered by People First empowered by Urban Strategies, Inc., a nonprofit that provides customized supportive services to Tidewater Gardens families and the city says to ensure they are stable and thriving.

According to data from the city, “Since the start of the redevelopment, People First has helped over 80% of Tidewater Gardens residents relocate to new homes of their choosing with several families achieving homeownership. Of those residents who have relocated, 85% have moved to neighborhoods with low poverty rates. To date, 82% of the 618 families have chosen to remain in Norfolk and, of the residents currently engaged in the process, over 53% have indicated a desire to return to the newly developed community.”

Rodney Jordan is currently on the Norfolk School Board and previously served as the Norfolk Redevelopment Housing Board. News 3 previously interviewed him this past fall.

He said a few months ago that the children in the city are directly impacted by plans to redevelop the city. He said he would like to see city leaders do a better job.

“What has traditionally occurred in Norfolk, which I think is happening again, is that we’ve become complacent with segregation,” Jordan said. “We allow for things to deteriorate, and go get funding and do redevelopment based upon the deterioration. We then come in, we displace families. Those families, particularly African American families, largely end up in communities that are also segregated or neighborhoods that may be challenged, and then we celebrate the buildings that come back. I think we missed the mark far too often when it comes to the success of the children and the success of the families.”

He gave a deposition on behalf of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and now calls them heroes for taking the city to court.

Related: Norfolk City Council votes to include additional land for St. Paul’s housing development, gun violence prevention