With more than 3,000 people in need of affordable housing in the territory and funding becoming increasingly difficult to come by, the V.I. Housing Authority has its work cut out for it.
At a press conference Thursday, Conrad Francois, VIHA executive director, said his semi-autonomous agency has several projects under way to accommodate only a fraction of the 2,200 to 2,500 people waiting for low- and medium-income housing. Another 900 to 1,200 people are waiting for assisted housing under the federal Section 8 program, Francois said.
"Just look at the waiting list at the Housing Authority. We know there is a great demand for affordable housing," Francois said.
To meet some of the demand on St. Croix, the Housing Authority is now demolishing the long-dilapidated Louis Brown Villas, the territorys largest housing community, in order to build a new mixed-income neighborhood. The project's 436 units just off the Melvin Evans Highway have been mostly derelict since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
At the end of the four-phase, four-year construction project, 80 families will be living in a mixed-income community of rental townhouse units and single-family units available for first-time homeowners.
The demolition project is being funded by an approximately $1 million grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. The remainder of the revitalization plan is being funded by $25 million in bonds issued by the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.
Another project on the big island includes the complete rehabilitation of the Croixville Apartments off Queen Mary Highway and Paradise Road. The project will create 80 rental units and will be fully affordable to residents with incomes at or below 50 percent of the area median income, Francois said.
VIHFA has committed to $600,000 in funds for the project and issuing tax-exempt bonds that will enable the project to secure a $4.8 million mortgage. Construction is scheduled to begin June 1, Francois said.
On St. Thomas, the Housing Authority is tearing down the Donoe housing community. Last month, however, work was stopped by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources because of the contractors lack of compliance needed for asbestos removal. Francois said work will resume once an approved corrective action is in place.
Additionally on St. Thomas, the Housing Authority board of commissioners recently authorized a contract for a new, 176-unit housing community at Estate Hoffman/Nullyberg. The cost of the project is $24.3 million.
Funding continues to be the Housing Authoritys biggest challenge, Francois said. Federal regulations put in place in 1998 call for housing agencies to keep a set amount of money in reserve. That is difficult for the Housing Authority because of a multi-million disagreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over hurricane-expense reimbursement and the fact that the local government owes about $3 million to fund the Lucinda Williams and Whim Gardens senior centers, Francois said.