Special Report: Breaking Ground on Public Housing?

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — In the next 10 years, the landscape of downtown Norfolk could change drastically.

The city rolled out a plan this year to replace three of Norfolk’s public housing communities with mixed income housing. Young Terrace, Tidewater Gardens and Calvert Square would be the heart of a new St. Paul’s district.

It would be a massive undertaking — with the plan calling for the removal of 1,700 units over 10 years.

City leaders host first community meeting to discuss public housing

When the city first revealed the plan, it drew backlash. People who lived in the communities — and outside — wanted to know where people would go.

Since then, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) has had informational sessions with each community to explain the vision — one that raises up all of Norfolk.

“Out here you can’t have a peace of mind,” Tidewater Gardens resident Antioneal Blagmon said. “Like at all.”

For 10 years Blagmon has called this area home. She has seen the floods and lived with the crime.

“Somebody got shot in front of my door, and my kids were outside,” she said.

As we walked around Tidewater Gardens, she explained she wants something different for her kids.

This is just one story we found among the brick, barrack style homes. They are houses that haven’t been changed and rarely updated in the last 50 years.

But Norfolk’s Redevelopment and Housing Association wants to change that.

“We want to transform this whole area, so that people living here can have better affordable housing and better quality of life,” NRHA Board Chair Barbara Hamm Lee said.

Early this summer NRHA released an ambitious plan – a new vision of the St. Paul’s district.

“The plan is to bring in mixed income housing and some retail, but this time we really want our residents to come first,” Hamm Lee said.

The plan would demolish Young Terrace, Tidewater Gardens, and Calvert Square. That is nearly 1,700 units in total.

Assisted Housing Units in Hampton Roads

So in order to put the residents first, NRHA has held six informational meetings to explain their vision and hear what the residents want.

Critics have said it is controversial. They said the plan would displace thousands of people in the interim.

FAQs: St. Paul’s Transformation

Hamm Lee said if you don’t hear anything else from her, hear this:

“Because we’ve been accused in NRHA, in particular, of just moving people out, that is not our intention and that is not what we want to have happen,” she explained.

NRHA has said they want to build something different. The best example they could point to is up the street in Broad Creek Village.

“The whole area was projects just like downtown Norfolk, Tidewater Park, Calvert Park, Young Park,” current resident Harry Johnson said.

He now lives where Bowling Green Park used to stand.

NRHA said they demolished more than 700 units in the early 2000s in the area. It had been four different public housing communities.

Then, along with private developers, the city built Broad Creek. It has more than 300 assisted units and 100 more of mixed income housing, like the house Johnson invited us into.

NRHA reports that the average income rose by $10,000 since the rebuild.

“I was amazed with what they done,” Johnson said.

So what does a man who has lived in both think about NRHA’s new plan?

“If the same vision is what they have here, then I say it’s a great thing,” he said.

“Even though some people may say, ‘This is where I live.’ Well that’s where I lived. But you know sometimes change is good.”