Public Housing

30 01 2009

Sooner or later, Norfolk is going to face a dilemma. I am in the process of creating a comprehensive map of Norfolk that will include potential redevelopment areas, current construction projects, and key development Points of Interest. While doing this, I confirmed a long-held notion of mine: Norfolk will have to redevelop the Downtown area public housing projects. The majority of the eastern side of Downtown (Bordered by the Elizabeth River, Virginia Beach Blvd, St. Paul’s Blvd, and Tidewater Drive) is made up of public housing. Not only do these large tracts of housing take up valuable real estate, but the sheer sentiment towards public housing repels potential developers. Nobody wants to invest their money near the public housing if they can take it elsewhere. I believe that this is why millions of dollars have been spent to the west of MacArthur Mall, but very few to the east. Having worked inside the Rotunda, I have seen the view that these residents have. The west side of the building gets great views. The east side… not so much. If you don’t believe that the public housing makes an impact, check out the Rotunda’s page on “The Views.” Every picture they have up there come from a side that does not face public housing.

Now don’t get me wrong, lower income people need a place to live too and I do not fault them (most of them) for their situation. I think that our public housing needs to be reworked though. Norfolk would not be the first nor would it be new to Norfolk. Prime example: Broad Creek. This housing development replaced outright 2 public housing developments and has been considered a success under the USHUD HOPE VI program, which is designed to move away from the ‘welfare-state’ model of management to a more effective model, in which residents are encouraged to better their situation and move up. Many cities are attempting to move towards this way of thinking, mainly because it works better. Tenants stay in the system for a shorter period of time, and conditions tend to be much nicer than in isolated housing projects. Places like New York City have even started allowing this model in high rise apartment complexes, renting market-price apartments alongside subsidized units. Something similar to this should be attempted in Downtown. I’m not talking huge complex, but I think that an affordable mix of actual apartments is needed Downtown. Currently, most housing Downtown is made up of condos. Very few rental units exist. Of those, most of them are way out of the price range of normal people. If there were at least a few biuldings with rent not exceeding an affordable rate for an average person to get a single bedroom apartment. NRHA would then subsidize up to a pre-set percentage of units (similar to Broad Creek) to make them affordable to low income persons and families.

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