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Norfolk, Va– A new federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit filed this week alleges that the city of Norfolk and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, with approval and financing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, have embarked on a redevelopment plan that forces every resident of several public housing developments in the St. Paul’s Quadrant out of their homes.

The complaint alleges that the redevelopment plan as it stands will illegally force residents into segregated housing within the city or out of Norfolk altogether before any replacement housing has been built. Further, the plan fails to provide sufficient affordable housing for their return when the area is redeveloped. The lawsuit alleges that this is another case of gentrification at the expense of the African American residents of the city.

The lawsuit was filed by Hogan Lovells, the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of residents of Tidewater Gardens and Calvert Square, the residents of the St. Paul’s Quadrant, its tenant group, a Norfolk resident long waiting for affordable housing and harmed by the demolition of the three public housing communities, and the New Virginia Majority.

The lawsuit alleges that the city and NHRA’s redevelopment plan is racially discriminatory and that HUD, by financing the plan without requiring necessary changes to assure that the African American residents of the area do not suffer racial discriminations, violated its statutory duty to further fair housing.

Tidewater Gardens, Calvert Square, and Young Terrace are three public housing communities that make up St. Paul’s Quadrant, and collectively comprise 1,674 housing units with about 4,200 residents, half of which are children and nearly all of whom are African American. 

“It is very important for everyone out here to have a place to stay. But so far the process has not been fair, which is why we needed to file this case,” said Evonne Bryant, a resident of Tidewater Gardens whose home is scheduled to be demolished in Phase 1 of the Redevelopment Plan.

While the $30 million grant from HUD only addresses Tidewater Gardens, the city and NRHA have approved the demolition and redevelopment of all three housing projects, which will displace every resident of St. Paul’s Quadrant. New “mixed income” housing will be developed in the area, most of it unaffordable to current residents. Upon completion, only 600 units of new housing are planned to be reserved for the current residents.

“We are proud to stand with public housing residents in Norfolk who are fighting against mass displacement,” said Thomas Silverstein, Counsel in the Fair Housing & Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Ensuring that redevelopment policies actually benefit communities of color and redress the legacy of segregation and redlining is one of the most important racial justice issues of our time.”

 “The actions taken by the city and approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in this matter represent a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Hogan Lovells lawyer Mallik Yamusah. “This lawsuit seeks to ensure that federally funded redevelopment projects do not continue to perpetrate segregation and are not built at the expense of residents, something that is happening right here in Norfolk within its St. Paul’s Quadrant.”

 “Despite several requests from residents for the city to reconsider the feasibility of this plan, the city continues to push forward with its displacement plan that will accelerate housing instability and push many people out of the city all together,” said Lafeetah Byrum, Climate Justice Lead Organizer for New Virginia Majority.

You can read the full complaint here.

The Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia team is led by Sarah Black. The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law team is led by Thomas Silverstein and Sarah Carthen Watson. The Hogan Lovells team is led by Stanley J. Brown, Thomas M. Trucksess, David W.D. Mitchell and Mallik N. Yamusah.