Middle Neighborhoods Initiative
The City of Norfolk is home to over 88,000 households and over 100 neighborhoods, each with their own unique set of strengths, challenges, and needs. While the strength of all neighborhoods is important to Norfolk’s future growth, middle neighborhoods deserve a special focus. These neighborhoods are neither thriving nor distressed, but rather are stable, and affordable - where primarily working class and middle-income households live. But as seen across the United States, the challenging housing market combined with greater economic forces, threatens to tip these neighborhoods into decline. The continued health of Norfolk’s middle neighborhoods depends on positive investment from all three sectors – public, private, and nonprofit.
Middle Neighborhoods have several distinguishing characteristics of income, affordability, and stability:
- Income: Middle neighborhoods are primarily identified by the income of the households that reside there, generally between 80-120% of area median income. These neighborhoods also lack high concentrations of poverty.
- Affordability: Middle neighborhoods tend to be areas where naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH) is located - where median home value and rental prices remain affordable, young families can find starter homes, and empty nesters downsize.
- Stability: Middle neighborhoods also demonstrate relative stability. These are not neighborhoods showing rapid growth nor rapid decline, as evidenced in homeownership, vacancy, and population trends.
Middle neighborhoods play a critical role in the health of a city, making up approximately 25-40 percent of a city’s population. Their ability to sustain stable and affordable property values and prevent deterioration is essential to the city’s future economic health and the social fabric of those communities. This is especially true for middle neighborhoods with primarily African American households, or Black middle neighborhoods, which have been disproportionately impacted by national recessions and housing market failures and at a national level have faced racial bias in home appraisals. Equity is a key lens through which middle neighborhood interventions should occur.
Preserving middle neighborhoods is no easy task, as many factors influence their future trajectory and economic health. Doing so requires engagement at all levels, from naturally occurring private investment, public (or publicly incentivized) investment, and nonprofit and civic engagement. The impact of this investment, however, is profound – from stabilizing and increasing property values, building wealth, preserving affordability, improving housing quality, and creating new neighborhoods of choice.
The City of Norfolk is committed to increasing its focus on middle neighborhood stability. Recommendations for action on middle neighborhoods are currently under development.