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HomeNewsArchivesV.I. Gets Back Warren E. Brown, Hears Plans for New Senior Center

V.I. Gets Back Warren E. Brown, Hears Plans for New Senior Center

Sens. Louis P. Hill and Celestino A. White Sr. and Gov. John deJongh Jr. (top row from left) watch as V.I. Housing Authority head Robert Graham and V.I. Housing Finance Authority head Clifford Graham (bottom row from left) sign the transfer documents.It was pretty much good news all around Thursday, as officials announced the transfer of the Warren E. Brown housing community site back to the V.I. government, and heard about plans currently in the works for a new senior center on St. Thomas.
Located across from Barbel Plaza, the Brown housing community was destroyed after Hurricane Hugo, and the buildings demolished — except for the few units on the lower end of the property that have been used for emergency housing for at least the past three decades.
Until Thursday, the site had been under the control of the V.I. Housing Authority, currently under federal receivership and overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Attempts to have the property turned back over to local control started back in 2006, but proved fruitless until now because of a lack of support from the authority’s leadership — something that officials said has changed with the installation of Robert Graham as executive director.
Graham let the compliments roll off his shoulders during a morning press conference held at Government House to formalize the transfer. But he did cause a bit of a commotion when he announced later in the program that he would be using the $1.3 million the V.I. government is paying for the site to build a new senior center on land behind the hospital.
Graham got the push to make the announcement from Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., who dominated Thursday’s press conference with a rundown of the housing situation in the territory and his efforts to improve it. In the case of Warren E. Brown, however, White said his failure to get the site back under local control set the ball rolling for Sens. Louis P. Hill and Carlton "Ital" Dowe, who successfully completed the process last year.
Hill’s bill to have the governor negotiate for the transfer of the property was signed into law in 2008, while Dowe sponsored the $1.3 million — included in the first borrowing authorization passed in 2009 — needed to buy the land. Hill—who at one point traveled to Washington, D.C., with V.I. Housing Finance Authority Executive Director Clifford Graham to talk over the transfer with a HUD undersecretary—said he pushed to take back Warren E. Brown because rent prices are skyrocketing in the territory.
Something has to be done to provide affordable housing to local residents, and having the locally managed V.I. Housing Finance Authority redevelop the land and turn it into quality, low-to-moderate income housing would go a long way to lowering the cost of living, Hill explained during the press conference.
Housing Finance will be developing the property in turnkey fashion, meaning that they will guarantee the end buyer, while whatever contractor is selected will finance the construction costs. The property itself is 9.9 acres, extending all the way back to Beltjen Place, and will soon house 160 units, ranging from lower income rentals on the lower portion of the land to moderate-income buildings — most likely townhouses — on the upper side.
A "light" commercial strip mall will also be constructed and used as a buffer between the road and the housing community, Clifford Graham explained during the press conference. The emergency housing units, which were already under Housing Finance’s purview, will also be rehabbed, he said.
Design plans for the new housing community are in the preliminary stages, as are plans for the new senior center, which is to be located in nearby Sugar Estate.
Robert Graham said the Housing Authority has been working on fixing up the Lucinda Millin Home for the Aged but has determined that two senior centers on St. Thomas are just not enough. Housing and Urban Development has provided the authority with a team of experts tasked with helping to put together plans for the new complex, and Graham said Thursday he and other local officials, such as the governor and head of the Senate, will be sitting down to hash out the details.
"Ideally, I would like it to be a mix between an independent living facility and a nursing home," Robert Graham said after the conference. "So we can take care of our seniors at more than one stage in their life."
Praising the efforts of the directors Graham on both developments, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said the kind of headway being made on the housing front is part of a continuous government effort to keep the collaborative juices flowing between the local and federal government. More projects are on the way and need to be tagged — given the high demand for affordable housing — as a priority, he added Thursday.

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