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1. How do residents exercise their right to return to the redeveloped Tidewater Gardens?
From the onset, the City of Norfolk and NRHA have guaranteed residents a right to return to the transformed community. City Resolution R-12 was approved by the City Council in November of 2020, indicating that a 714-unit development will be divided into market-rate, affordable and rental-subsidized housing.
In addition, NRHA resolution 9443, adopted November 12, 2020, established the right-to-return policy that each resident who wishes to return to the on-site or off-site replacement housing may return if the resident was lease-compliant at the time of departure from the Tidewater Gardens public housing community as of February 28, 2019, and continued to remain lease-compliant during the relocation period. A returning resident will be provided a preference for the replacement units for a period of five years from initial lease-up of replacement units. Also, residents will be given preference for affordable units at first lease-up, provided they meet income requirements and remain in good standing.
2. Moving is expensive. How will the City and NRHA alleviate the financial impact on families already struggling to make ends meet?
First of all, People FirstUSI supports families to secure quality and stable housing of choice, whether it is in Norfolk or another city or state. The cost of relocation is being covered by NRHA with HUD Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI) grant funds and NRHA capital funds. NRHA pays moving expenses, security deposits, and utility deposits as grants, and the City of Norfolk provides money to break leases or sign new ones. Application fees and utility connection fees are also reimbursed. Costs are covered for up to three moves including initial relocation out of Tidewater Gardens and the moving costs to return.
3. What are the current housing options for residents while the development is underway?
Tidewater Gardens residents have the option of moving to another NRHA public-housing or project-based voucher community, or apply for a housing-choice voucher that will enable them to select another affordable apartment or house. Both options are available permanently or temporarily if residents elect to return to the new housing upon completion. Regardless of which choice is made, the end goal is to move families from needing support to being self-sustaining.
4. What is a housing-choice voucher?
The housing-choice voucher program is the federal government's major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.
Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants can find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments. The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.
Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family.
The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program. Under certain circumstances, if authorized by the PHA, a family may use its voucher to purchase a modest home.
5. How many residents have said they want to return when the community is transformed?
From the 618 original homes in Tidewater Gardens, 553 of those families have made a housing choice. Of those, 54%, or 300, have said “yes” when asked if they want to return to the redevelopment.
6. Where are the families who said they don’t want to return?
Those families have exercised their right to relocate, with a voucher, either to other public housing communities or to housing on the private market.
7. Can people change their minds and elect to return to Tidewater Gardens when the redevelopment is completed?
Yes, (Right of return- 5 years provision) People FirstUSI, the organization the City and NRHA have contracted with to work directly with residents, is encouraging families to put their name on the community wait list if there is a remote possibility they want to return in 2025. This wait list will allow residents to indicate the type of housing desired and specify the number of bedrooms for which each resident’s household is eligible.
8. With the demolition underway in the midst of a pandemic, and skyrocketing housing prices, this could be the worst time to find a new place to live. Who is helping residents navigate?
People FirstUSI is working closely with families to help them secure permanent or temporary housing that is structurally sound and located in a safe neighborhood that does not have a high concentration of poverty. Since the beginning of the relocation and demolition process, People FirstUSI has helped more than 500 of the original Tidewater Gardens families impacted find housing.
In addition, NRHA’s Landlord Liaison works with eligible residential property owners by providing training and advising them on voucher-program participation and administration.
Right to Return
Frequently Asked Questions
Now vs. Then
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What’s different about the Tidewater Gardens redevelopment today versus previous public housing redevelopments in Norfolk?
Norfolk is among many cities in the U.S. whose past efforts to develop or redevelop public housing have not done enough to sustain, protect and support those who live there. Systemic racism, redlining and other discriminatory practices, along with geographic, economic and manmade barriers, have created generations of families afflicted by poverty, with residents of public housing cut off from the prosperity of other areas.
The location of the three St. Paul’s communities that include Tidewater Gardens – selected in the 1950s and divided off from Downtown Norfolk – is considered an example of such efforts.
Those who fear repeating other past redevelopment mistakes in Norfolk, specifically incidents of gentrification in the East Beach and Ghent neighborhoods, also point to Tidewater Gardens with worry. Their concern is that, once again, a minority community will be replaced by homes too overpriced for original residents to return to.
Like the more recent projects of Broad Creek and Diggs Town, however, the Tidewater Gardens transformation is intentionally designed to be an inclusive, mixed-income neighborhood that includes housing opportunities for low-income families and existing Tidewater Gardens residents.
The project includes a “right to return” policy, endorsed by the City Council and the NRHA’s Board of Commissioners, ensuring that every Tidewater Gardens resident in good standing who wants a home in the redeveloped community will have one. To that end, the City and NRHA are maintaining a ground lease for the new developments that allows them both to ensure long-term affordability beyond the initial compliance period.
The Tidewater Gardens redevelopment puts people – namely, the original residents – first. The City received a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the express purpose of deconcentrating high incidences of poverty in targeted communities and creating mixed-income neighborhoods where everyone can thrive, with amenities such as high-achieving schools, jobs that pay higher than minimum wage, and health care. A key requirement of the grant is that residents must be given a choice where they want to live instead of being assigned housing like in previous practices.
The City has earmarked $3.5 million a year through 2025 to provide residents with a holistic suite of supportive services to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.
2. What holistic services are offered to Tidewater Gardens families?
The City and NRHA hired Urban Strategies, Inc. (USI), as the “People” lead for the CNI effort, to develop customized supportive services for affected residents before, during, and after Tidewater Gardens is redeveloped. The services are being administered through People FirstUSI, a feet-on-the-ground organization that works closely with residents to provide assistance in four areas:
Health and wellness
Since 2019, the People FirstUSI team has worked one-on-one with Tidewater Gardens residents to help them do such things as secure housing, obtain jobs and health care, and, for students learning remotely during the pandemic, receive technology, tutoring and educational support. More information on People FirstUSI is available here.
3. How are residents guaranteed a right to return to Tidewater Gardens after the transformation?
The CNI grant requires the right to return to the new development for individuals and families who wish to move back to the revitalized location. This has been supported by both a City policy and a November 24, 2020, City resolution guaranteeing this right, as well as a resolution by the NRHA’s Board of Commissioners.
Residents have relocated in phases out of the 618-unit Tidewater Gardens for the past three years. Of the 553 families who have made a housing choice, about 300, or 54%, have indicated they want to return to the community when it’s finished in 2025. Their applications will receive priority over others as long as they are in good standing with the housing authority and don’t have any criminal violations, a requirement all NRHA tenants must meet.
4. What is being done now for former residents of Tidewater Gardens who have had to leave their homes?
While the redevelopment is under way, People FirstUSI is helping residents relocate by providing financial assistance, by working with landlords to encourage them to rent to tenants who have housing vouchers, and by helping them find available housing. Residents can move permanently or temporarily to another public housing community or, with the use of a housing-choice voucher, they can move to a rental home or apartment of their choosing.
Ultimately, the redeveloped Tidewater Gardens will have 714 units with roughly one-third for rent-subsidized housing, one-third for affordable housing, and one-third for market-rate housing. Tidewater Gardens residents have the first preference to both the subsidized housing and the affordable housing. These allocations will accommodate those former Tidewater Gardens residents who have indicated they want to return to the revitalized community.
5. What specifically is different from the early days of public-housing development in terms of community engagement?
Keeping Tidewater Gardens residents informed about the goals and objectives for the redevelopment and obtaining their input and seal of approval have been paramount every step of the way. Residents, both those who have indicated they want to return to the transformed community as well as those who don’t, and other stakeholders have had a voice in what the new apartment buildings will look like and how the greenspace and common areas should be designed to promote a sense of community.
The City and NRHA have worked in tandem to obtain resident feedback by holding community meetings; distributing online surveys, newsletters and mailings; attending St. Paul’s Advisory Committee (SPAC) meetings; and interacting one-on-one with residents during monthly “Worth It Wednesday” events sponsored by the City. People FirstUSI has an office conveniently located near the construction site so residents can drop in to ask questions, express concerns, and receive information. In addition, residents and other stakeholders are participating in naming the overall neighborhood for the redevelopment, which includes its gathering spaces and recreation areas.
6. How is the success of this redevelopment initiative being measured?
The City measures the success based on the residents who are able to stabilize their families by working with People FirstUSI counselors to further their or their children’s education, afford childcare, access health and medicine, secure housing, and obtain other services they might not have otherwise. The ultimate goal is to support not just heads of households but the entire family, to help them lead more successful and resilient lives. Having safe and affordable housing is the first step toward breaking the cycle of poverty.
The City evaluates the People FirstUSI initiative on an ongoing basis to determine if stated outcomes are achieved and to ensure that strategies for delivering its services are effective and efficient. This evaluation also ensures good stewardship of taxpayer dollars. The City also hired an external entity, Norfolk State University (NSU), to objectively evaluate the process. NSU will conduct a four-year evaluation of the People FirstUSI initiative to document long-term outcomes and provide real-time information that can be used to make tweaks along the way if challenges are identified.
In addition, relocation surveys are conducted on a regular basis and a hotline was created to enable residents to call in with concerns.