Norfolk housing settlement will be closely monitored by the plaintiffs

Norfolk housing settlement will be closely monitored by the plaintiffs

Press releases | 16 December 2021

Norfolk, Va. – Organizations and individuals bringing suit against the City of Norfolk over the planned displacement of public housing residents are calling the announced settlement of the case a good first step, but have pledged to closely monitor the implementation of the settlement terms. 

New Virginia Majority, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, and the law firm Hogan Lovells are pleased that the parties have reached a settlement in Bryant v. City of Norfolk, a lawsuit challenging the mass displacement of Black residents of the Tidewater Gardens public housing community. 

The lawsuit concerned the federally funded redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens and future plans to demolish two nearby public housing communities, Young Terrace and Calvert Square. New Virginia Majority, the Residents of St. Paul’s Quadrant Tenant Group, and four individual plaintiffs filed suit against the City of Norfolk, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA), the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), and then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson in January 2020. NRHA Executive Director Ronald Jackson was subsequently added as a defendant.

Originally, HUD awarded the City of Norfolk and the NRHA a $30 million grant to demolish Tidewater Gardens while only providing 226 units of replacement housing (in place of 618 original units) on-site and only 309 such units overall. Displaced residents who did not get a replacement unit were expected to find new housing using Housing Choice Vouchers in an extremely tight rental market where landlords in higher opportunity neighborhoods (those that are not segregated and have good schools) seldom accept vouchers. As a result, hundreds of former Tidewater Gardens residents have already found themselves in highly segregated, often high poverty neighborhoods that are more isolated from jobs and transportation than the St. Paul’s area where they previously lived.

The settlement agreement is structured to ensure that every former Tidewater Gardens resident who wants to come back to the new, redeveloped neighborhood can do so. Under the agreement, the City and the NRHA will provide 260 replacement units on-site and 330 such units overall. They are also committing to requirements that should enable any additional families that wish to return to access Low-Income Housing Tax Credit units or Project-Based Voucher units in the redeveloped area as well as the nearby Market Heights will be able to do so. They will also improve their administration of the voucher relocation process to afford displaced residents meaningful neighborhood choice. 

Lastly, the City and the NRHA have committed to significant steps to promote fair and affordable housing in Norfolk in the future, including good faith efforts to develop a significant number of Project-Based Voucher units over the next seven years and a commitment to undertaking a fair housing analysis prior to any move to demolish Young Terrace and Calvert Square within the next five years. Moreover, the City agreed to amend its fair housing law to prevent landlords from discriminating against residents with vouchers and to take serious steps to enforce the new law.

Sarah Black, Deputy Director of the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, said, “This is a good first step, although there is still work to be done to create affordable housing for Black residents of Norfolk. The city still grapples with the legacy of racism and how it continues to affect its citizens. Residents of Young Terrace and Calvert Square may soon face similar obstacles to find housing, and the protections agreed upon in the settlement will be essential to create a less segregated Norfolk. It is also important to understand that apart from the settlement, the City owns significant land in the St. Paul’s Quadrant that are not subject to flooding and can be developed to include mixed income housing, including affordable units. We will work with the New Virginia Majority and others to see that those affordable units are built.”

“New Virginia Majority is committed to continuing our work to support the organizing efforts of public housing residents in Norfolk. This agreement shows that tenants working together can make strides when it comes to racial, economic, and housing justice,” said Monet Johnson, lead housing justice organizer for New Virginia Majority. 

“Black residents of Tidewater Gardens deserve every opportunity to benefit from the redevelopment plan, and this agreement is a significant step toward making that a reality,” said Thomas Silverstein, associate director with the Fair Housing and Community Development Project with The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Nonetheless, significant inequities in Norfolk remain, and we are committed to keeping up the fight for housing justice.”

Stan Brown, senior counsel at Hogan Lovells, said, “We are pleased that in the end the City has agreed to work with the parties in this case to ensure a fair resolution. It is important to note that although the case was dismissed as part of the settlement, the dismissal included a provision whereby the Court retains jurisdiction to ensure compliance with the agreement.” 

The Hogan Lovells team was led by Brown and partner Jon Talotta (Northern Virginia), with support from partner Steve Barley, former partner Robert Wolinsky, senior associates Matt Ducharme, David Baron, Mallik Yamusah, David Mitchell, and Mike Burns, associates Zach Siegel, Stevie DeGroff, Harrison Kilgore, and Ben Sanchez, and paralegals Ashley Johnson and Alicia Balthazar