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Land Sale Rumors, Crime are Topics at Housing Community Meetings

Sept. 11, 2006 – At recent meetings held in both districts relative to the status of various housing projects, it was suggested that the Donoe and Warren E. Brown properties are up for sale.
The meetings were held to give residents the opportunity to review the V.I. Housing Authority's five-year plan – a voluminous document that will soon be sent to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development for final approval.
The Housing Authority was taken over by HUD in August 2003. Many individuals, including Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., have complained that the agency was functioning better when it was under local control (See "Woeful State of Affordable Housing Remains an Issue").
Residents had 45 days to look through the plan, which was displayed at Housing Authority headquarters in both districts, and another opportunity to offer feedback on the plan during meetings held by Housing officials.
At the meeting held on St. Thomas, one Housing official, in reviewing the plan, said the documents indicated that Donoe and Warren E. Brown were up for sale.
Meanwhile, on St. Croix, businessman Anthony Weeks has been making moves to purchase Williams Delight, another community under the control of the V.I. Housing Authority.
Details on the project have been unavailable because Weeks has not returned several phone calls placed over the past week.
V.I. Housing Finance Authority Executive Director Clifford Graham said during a recent interview that the Housing Authority has not yet given word that the Donoe and Warren E. Brown properties were on the market. Graham said that he has indicated several times that VIHFA would be interested in purchasing the two sites for new housing developments.
Numerous calls made to Michael Hollis, federal receiver for the Housing Authority, to confirm whether or not the two sites are currently on the market, have not been returned.
The plan also lists other properties, or portions of various housing communities, which will be put on the market or are scheduled to be demolished.
According to Housing Authority officials, residents living within those communities are given "between one and two years'" notice before any units are torn down or sold. Government agencies are also given at least a year's notice if units, or pieces of HFA property, are up for sale, officials said.
However, Graham said that there are still residents living in three communities in which a portion of the development is up for sale. "The VIHFA is involved in acquiring one unit in Anna's Retreat, 11 units in Polyberg and nine units in George Simmonds Terrance. These will all be converted to homeownership units," he said. "There are still residents living in those."
Graham added that Housing Finance Authority was only notified about five months ago that the units were up for sale.
At the Housing Authority meeting on St. Thomas, discussion also turned toward the financial status of residents living in HFA housing communities, along with how many residents are currently waiting for public housing.
According to Noel Lewis, training and safety officer for the V.I. Housing Authority, the agency "strategically" places individuals within various public housing developments, so as to "deconcentrate" poverty levels.
"We statistically determine the average income for individuals in the community, then strategically place those individuals who are employed within the developments so that there is no high concentration of poverty," he said.
Meanwhile, the document indicates that there are 5,512 families within the territory who are in need of low income housing. The document also indicates, however, that there are few housing units available for these individuals because of their income level.
The document also states that 405 families are on the waiting list for housing on St. Thomas, while 401 families are waiting for housing on St. Croix. A majority of these families are black, of "very low" income and include children.
Another 1,155 families are waiting for Section 8 housing vouchers.
Lewis said some of these individuals have been on the waiting list for the last seven or eight years.
During the meeting, Housing Authority officials also went through a section of the plan that outlines "crime and safety statistics" for various housing communities.
According to the document, there are high incidences of "violent and/or drug-related crime" in "some or all" of the public housing developments, which has caused "residents" to be "fearful for their safety and/or the safety of their children."
The plan also said that people on the waiting list are "unwilling to move into one or more developments due to the perceived and/or actual levels of violent and/or drug related crime."
Specifically, the plan states that Oswald Harris Court, Michael J. Kirwan Terrace, Estate Tutu Apartments and Estate Bovoni Apartments on St. Thomas are most affected by the crime and drug levels. On St. Croix, Ludvig E. Harrigan Court, Ralph de Chabert, John F. Kennedy Terrace and Williams Delight Villas are the most affected areas.
The five-year plan also outlines the Housing Authority's goals up to 2009, along with a budget, and various housing policies.
Once the plan is approved by HUD next month, the document cannot be changed unless the authority approves and attaches an amendment, Lewis said.

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