A field trip to Norfolk

How often do you see public housing residents, East End neighbors, senior staff from RRHA and the City of Richmond, and elected officials sitting together on a bus? Well, I had the chance to tag along for their visit to Broad Creek Renaissance, a revitalized community where low-income individuals and their families receive catered supportive services, housing, and opportunities to help them lift themselves out of poverty.

Our first stop on Friday, October 24, 2014 was to the Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center, a focal point of Broad Creek’s community amenities, to hear about how it got its start.

DSCN0023 Cynthia Newbille

In July 2000, Norfolk Redevelopment Housing Authority received a $35 million HUD HOPE VI grant to transform the highly distressed Roberts Village and Bowling Green Public Housing Communities, and it selected The Community Builders, Inc. (TCB), a national nonprofit housing developer, to spearhead the redevelopment. Roberts Village and Bowling Green were then merged to become Broad Creek Renaissance, with approximately 300 family and senior rental units, 300 homeownership units, plenty of commercial space for new businesses, and all new infrastructure.

Ms. Coley, Broad Creek resident, shared her perspective about this life-changing experience. Despite concerns she and others had held about the project plans seeming “too good to be true,” she ended up being very happy with the transformation. Sitting right next to her, City of Norfolk Councilmember Mamie Johnson (Ward 3) added that creating a successful large-scale neighborhood transformation effort, such as the one they had undergone, required a whole coalition of advocates.

DSCN0130 RVA Presentation

Next, the Richmond cohort saw the transformed neighborhood for themselves. As we walked through residential units, Richmond public housing residents were pleasantly surprised: the mix of market rate and Public Housing Assistance (PHA) units were indistinguishable in quality and upkeep. Other highlights from the tour:

  • We noticed a lack of older youth loitering, thanks to mandatory school attendance programs and a 9 pm curfew, both of which residents had a hand in implementing when deciding rules for their community
  • We learned about mandatory work requirements of 30 hours a week with support services for helping residents find jobs
  • We visited a site where residents are advocating for a new elementary school, complete with sports fields to be developed by the city
  • We were told that the community boasts an 83% voter registration rate among residents

After lunch, the discussion shifted to Richmond. Torti Gallas & Partners, an architecture and urban planning firm, presented their renderings for the new Creighton Court. Designs were inspired by the architecture of different Richmond neighborhoods and incorporated feedback from current Creighton Court residents and the larger East End community as a result of several public meetings this year.

DSCN0109 Model Unit

The session ended with a series of photos showing what Broad Creek had looked like before redevelopment. After seeing the “before” photos, one Richmond resident exclaimed, “I thought those were pictures of Creighton!” Several residents agreed with her and stated that they looked forward to the day their community would look like Broad Creek as well.

Author: Taylor Holden is a senior at University of Richmond where he is studying Environmental Studies, Geography, and Economics and the president of Students Engaged and Enacting a Dialogue on Service (SEEDS). Taylor served as volunteer photographer for this trip.

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