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St. Paul's Redevelopment Lawsuit: 'Unlikely' housing vouchers will help residents find homes in low-poverty areas

The lawsuit claims the only landlords who accept housing vouchers have properties in poor, segregated neighborhoods.

NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk residents who filed a lawsuit against the city over its plans to demolish low-income housing said it's "unlikely" the promised housing vouchers will help families rise out of poverty.

The city plans to replace St. Paul’s quadrant with mixed-income apartments. Officials say some residents will be able to move into the new units, others will be given housing vouchers.

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But the lawsuit charges: “Landlords can legally refuse to rent to people with vouchers.” And: “Finding housing in 'high opportunity' areas with Housing Choice Vouchers is unlikely.”

Residents filed a lawsuit against the city, this week, accusing Norfolk of “perpetuating racial segregation" and "driving black residents out of the city.”

The lawsuit claims the redevelopment plan will "will once again force Black residents of that area into segregated housing within Norfolk or out of the city."

Delegate Jay Jones acknowledged landlords not accepting vouchers, can be an issue.

“Landlords are not allowed to discriminate based on the housing voucher being the method of payment, however they can elect not to accept them if that’s their purview,” he said. “I understand the concern among residents. I think all of us would be a little bit concerned if we were told we’re going to have to leave our home.”

Jones said the government is working to address their concerns. He helped pass a bill that gives landlords in low-poverty areas, tax breaks if they accept housing vouchers.

“We don’t want to put people in a situation where there’s no place to go, no place to live,” Jones said. “The bill was done in partnership with the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the city of Norfolk to facilitate the movement of folks out of St Paul’s, knowing that we are undertaking a very large scale redevelopment that’s going to take the better part of 10 years to get through.”

Jones explained the law makes it easier for poor families to find a place to live, and the reaction from landlords has been positive.

“Statistics will show that folks who have housing vouchers do pay on time, do in fact meet all of the necessary requirements to be a good tenant,” he said.

Last May, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Norfolk’s Housing Authority with a $30 million grant towards redeveloping St Paul's quadrant. That includes Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace, and Calvert Square.

It’s more than 1,600 units, housing around 4,200 residents, and according to the lawsuit, “virtually all of whom are black.” 

The lawsuit claims the city isn’t building enough housing to replace all the existing units and it questions if the units that are being built, would be affordable.

The lawsuit is asking the court to stop the redevelopment plan, stop resident relocation, and to stop any planned demolition until the city and housing authority adjust their plans.

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