NORFOLK, Va. — Public housing residents in the St. Paul's neighborhood of Norfolk rallied outside City Hall on Wednesday to demand certain protections before the city starts redeveloping their community.
Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Norfolk’s Housing Authority a $30 million grant towards redeveloping the St. Paul's Quadrant. That area includes Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace, and Calvert Square.
The plan is to build mixed-income apartments in that part of Norfolk to replace some of the existing public housing units that were built in the 1950s. Demolition and resident relocation have been delayed until this fall.
City leaders do plan on reserving about a third of the new public housing units for low-income residents to return to the St. Paul's Quadrant. They've also said existing residents will be given housing vouchers and placed in other housing units during the process.
However, residents and advocates said everyone should have the opportunity to return to the new mixed-housing.
“A lot of people don’t want to be displaced, a lot of people don’t want to be moved out," said Tidewater Gardens resident Karina Rayeford. "A lot of people would like to return because a lot of people were raised in this area, this is all they know.”
Residents and some advocacy groups have pushed back against the redevelopment plan by suing the city, claiming that they're unfairly targeting poor, black families. They also claim that the redevelopment project would force many residents out of their community.
Now, they're calling on Mayor Kenny Alexander to build replacement units before demolishing existing homes.
“Because the demolition is going to happen, we want them to be able to stay in their neighborhoods to keep their friends, families, jobs, their sense of community," said Monét Johnson, community organizer for New Virginia Majority.
In a letter to the mayor, they also demanded that a replacement housing unit be offered to each home that is demolished to maintain housing during the redevelopment process.
"The better [housing] is going to be built right where they used to live, so most people are going to want to come back and they should have the right to do so," said Johnson.
The neighborhood recently became a food desert after losing the Save A Lot grocery store, which took away access to the only nearby source of fresh produce.