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People opt to move before being forced out by area's redevelopment in Norfolk

Norfolk is working with residents in the St. Paul's area which is getting a huge overhaul, but a mother in Tidewater Gardens said she "couldn't wait" to decide on her future.

NORFOLK, Va. — Chelsea Banks said she was told last year that she'd be a part of 'Phase One,' the group of 187 families who will be the first to move from Tidewater Gardens this summer.

Just a few months away from a potential moving day, Banks decided she couldn't wait any longer to find a new home for herself and her three children.

"I think people have the same mindset and are saying 'I have to go, I have to move somewhere else and I can't wait on [the city] to decide my future," Banks said.

Norfolk plans to relocate thousands of residents from Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace and Calvert Square over at least the next five years as part of the St. Paul's Area Revitalization.

Current residents have the choice to move into other public housing facilities in Norfolk or accept a voucher to move into private housing in Norfolk and surrounding cities.

Knowing she would need to leave her home in Tidewater Gardens where she's lived for the past 6 years, Banks decided to move closer to her family in North Carolina. She also found a new job there. 

She said she knew she gave up on possible support from the city and other agencies when she decided to leave the acceptable radius for a private housing voucher.

"I'm happy I took it into my own hands because I didn't want to be the person that didn't know what was going to happen," she said.

Banks said she feels other neighbors who are part of Phase One in Tidewater Gardens are anxious about the move. She said she knows some people are still uninformed and others feel nervous because of past experiences.

"I just hope it works out for everybody," she said.

Norfolk has different services and support staff in place to help residents with the transition, and more assistance is on the way.

The city has assigned 20 Department of Human Services caseworkers to help residents in Phase One of the relocation. Norfolk Housing and Redevelopment Authority director John Kownack said his staff is helping as well.

"We're providing our own resources to help people understand their choices," he said.

Norfolk spokeswoman Lori Crouch said the United Way is also helping, and a customized BankOn program is aiding Tidewater Gardens residents in a focus on budgeting and credit repair if they desire. 

These personalized services are part of what the city calls 'People First,' an "umbrella term for all transformative services being provided to residents," according to Crouch. 

However, one key piece of People First is missing. The city is waiting on a contractor to manage the overall program, provide additional services and increase the number of staff dedicated to help residents through the process.

Norfolk initially submitted a Request for Proposal to find the contractor in 2018, but city leaders said the results were "underwhelming." A second RFP was filed and the results for that RFP are expected on March 6. Crouch said the proposals will be reviewed and interviews will begin after that date, with the award granted in April and full implementation in the summer. 

That would mean that the first phase of residents could move out of Tidewater Gardens around the same time that key staff and support services are added to boost the People First initiative. However, Kownack said the contractor will be required to help residents in the transition for years to come, saying it is a "long-term" program that will help Phase One residents.

Friday, Norfolk will also open three People First offices in Tidewater Gardens to create more one-on-one support for residents. The office locations are 447, 453 and 461 Walke Street and will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m Monday through Friday. 

Tidewater Gardens residents can also call the People First hotline to ask questions: 757-314-2000.