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“We're planning to plan”: Norfolk’s housing authority starts early discussions on redeveloping two more public housing communities downtown

Hattie Green, 80, sits on the porch of her Calvert Square apartment with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Green has lived virtually all her life in different public housing complexes in Norfolk.
Ryan Murphy
Ryan Murphy
Hattie Green, 80, sits on the porch of her Calvert Square apartment with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Green has lived virtually all her life in different public housing complexes in Norfolk.

As the redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens continues, neighboring Calvert Square and Young Terrace are eyed for transformation.

Early stages of planning have begun for the redevelopment of two more large neighborhoods of public housing near Norfolk’s downtown.

This comes as Tidewater Gardens, a former public housing neighborhood, is replaced with mixed-income development.

Calvert Square and Young Terrace were built alongside Tidewater Gardens in the 1950s and have been a target for redevelopment for the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority for the better part of the last two decades.

Steve Morales, chief community development officer for the NRHA, notes the nearly 70-year-old complexes not only lack modern amenities like central air conditioning, but were designed and managed in such a way that they became racially segregated and disconnected from the surrounding community.

“We are trying to fix some of the sins from the past,” Morales told WHRO.

Morales said the authority will spend the next six months or so developing a framework for the planning process.

The actual planning, which Morales said will include extensive resident and community feedback, will develop the nuts and bolts of what Calvert and Young could become and may take a year or two, though he said he doesn’t want to commit to a timeline because things often change.

The Tidewater Gardens redevelopment plan took more than a decade, Morales noted.

Calvert and Young’s transformation would require relocating thousands of residents from more than 1,000 apartments. Morales said the authority has learned from the Tidewater process better ways to manage that movement.

“With the fits and starts with Tidewater, I don’t think we had the residents properly prepared,” Morales said. “I think the biggest thing would be earlier case management services to work with the residents … in order to help them through the process whether a plan moves forward or not.”

NRHA posted a request in April seeking developerswho can redevelop public housing complexes into mixed-income communities, as it has in Tidewater Gardens.The request for applicants mentions Calvert Square and Young Terrace by name as targeted neighborhoods, alongside two other existing public housing developments — Oak Leaf Forest and Diggs Town in Campostella.

The redevelopment of Calvert and Young were always part of the overall redevelopment vision. Norfolk City Council gave NRHA the go-ahead to demolish all three neighborhoods in 2018.

But the exact fate of Calvert and Young has been unclear. As NRHA focused on the federally backed redevelopment in Tidewater Gardens, the agency said there were no immediate plans for the other two neighborhoods.

Although they’re in the plan area for the federal Choice Neighborhoods Initiative project, the tens of millions of dollars that have flowed in are only allocated for the ongoing redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens.

Morales said the authority is considering a new application to that federal housing program to help it afford the redevelopment of the next two neighborhoods.

Hattie Green was sitting on the front porch of her Calvert Square apartment on a recent summer afternoon, watching her granddaughter and great granddaughter play. Green, now 80, said she’s lived in different public housing neighborhoods since she was a year old.

She said the redevelopment has been rumored for years and an NRHA representative came around last year talking about potential plans.

“I just hope that whatever they do, it’ll be better for the people,” Green said. “They need to make sure the young people are involved with it and not pushed aside, and build stuff so that they can have a place to go and grow up.”

The redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens, which Green said she started hearing about when she lived there in the 1990s, has been a long time coming and has been beset with complications, especially navigating the pandemic as timelines were delayed, residents were moved out and construction costs soared.

The NRHA settled a lawsuit in 2021 brought by former Tidewater Gardens residents who argued the plan to relocate them violated the federal Fair Housing Act by failing to provide sufficient housing for those moving out and reinforcing racial segregation in Norfolk.

Virtually all of Tidewater’s residents were Black, and a Virginian-Pilot investigation showed the bulk of them ended up in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods following patterns of racial segregation that dates back decades and still shapes Norfolk today.

That settlement was mostly focused on remedying issues for former Tidewater tenants, but also said the NRHA must make a report to the plaintiffs before making plans to tear down Calvert and Young to determine whether that redevelopment plan would perpetuate racial segregation in the city.

Carl Poole is a community organizer with New Virginia Majority, an advocacy group which was one of the plaintiffs in the now-settled lawsuit.

The group has been highly critical of NRHA and the process of the Tidewater Gardens redevelopment, including the authority’s right-to-return policies. Critics have argued for years the authority’s measures are insufficient to guarantee the return of all the residents who called Tidewater Gardens home.

Now, Poole said he’s worried about NRHA moving ahead with another redevelopment and will start making plans without including the residents.

“I think that kind of transparency is absolutely necessary, (it) keeps everybody honest,” Poole said.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

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