Civil rights and grassroots groups take action to halt mass displacement in Norfolk

Housing advocates aim to stop unlawful evictions and demolition of public housing community.

Washington, D.C., 23 April 2021 — The city of Norfolk and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) are perpetuating residential racial segregation by implementing their unlawful redevelopment plan for public housing in the St. Paul's Quadrant, according to a motion filed April 23, 2021 by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, and global law firm Hogan Lovells.

The plaintiffs in Bryant v. City of Norfolk want the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to grant an injunction that will halt any further demolition and forced evictions in furtherance of the redevelopment plan. They believe the plan violates the federal Fair Housing Act and want the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stop funding for the discriminatory plan.

"Under the last administration, HUD approved a grant for a redevelopment project that will force hundreds of Black residents out of their homes, entrench racial segregation in Norfolk, and reduce the affordable housing supply in the city, all to make way for hundreds of units near downtown Norfolk that will be affordable only to wealthier residents," said Thomas Silverstein, counsel with the Fair Housing and Community Development Project with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The Plan is appalling, and HUD's approval of the plan was unlawful, but HUD continues to defend it."

If continued, the redevelopment plan will complete the demolition of the Tidewater Gardens public housing complex – one of three public housing properties in the community – without providing displaced tenants a meaningful right to return or adequate replacement housing in high opportunity areas. Numerous residents have already been forced out of the complex and into segregated, high-poverty areas of the city.

"The Redevelopment Plan as presently iterated is gentrification at its worst, forcibly removing low-income Black people from their homes with little real hope of return, and forms yet another dismal chapter in the City's historical pattern of destroying Black neighborhoods," said Sarah Black, deputy director and director of litigation at the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia. "The plan must be reformulated to allow the current residents of St. Paul's a real chance to remain in and benefit from the project."

"We have taken this action now while there is still time to revise this discriminatory plan that violates the law," said Robert Wolinsky, a partner at Hogan Lovells and Stan Brown, senior counsel at Hogan Lovells. "Hogan Lovells has long fought for racial justice in housing, and while we feel the St. Paul's area should be redeveloped, the current plan perpetuates segregation and it needs to be dramatically altered so that all of its citizens will benefit."

"Hasty and thoughtless demolition of Tidewater Gardens is an imminent threat to residents' right to safe, decent homes," said Monét Johnson, organizer at New Virginia Majority. "As it stands, the city and the NRHA's plan does not give residents enough time to collect their resources, take their time finding a place they like and deserve, and then go through the actual process of moving."

The funding and implementation of this plan stands in stark contrast to the positive steps that HUD took last week to restore a commitment to civil rights and reverse the Trump administration's attacks on the Fair Housing Act. The motion is essential to prevent further displacement of residents of color and calls for a recognition from the court that the redevelopment plan and HUD s approval violate the Fair Housing Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and must be paused. Considering that 96.7% of public housing tenants in Norfolk are Black, the courts must protect safe, affordable living spaces for Black residents and strike down practices that perpetuate housing discrimination and infringe upon tenants rights.

The Hogan Lovells team is led by Robert B. Wolinsky, Stanley J. Brown, Matt Ducharme, David Baron, Michael A. Burns, Mallik N. Yamusah, and Zachary P. Siegel, and Harrison Gray Kilgore. The Legal Aid society team is led by Sarah Black.

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