Partnerships with various government agencies regarding security, sustainability and a look to the future were the main themes to emerge from the V.I.I Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday morning on St. Thomas.
VIHA Executive Director Robert Graham wasted no time in opening the session talking of the newly implemented partnership the authority has formed with the V.I. Police Department in response to security issues at some of its housing communities across the territory.
Speaking of the memorandum of agreement signed with the police in early October, Graham said progress had been made on both St. Thomas and St. Croix.
“Our partnership with the Police Department has been effective,” Graham said of St. Thomas. “We have implemented community policing slowly, but we certainly have begun to process at Tutu Highrise.”
He added that the trend the last few quarters had actually been an increase of police calls at Bovoni in comparison to Tutu.
“The presence of the police at Tutu, we believe the statistics will bear over time that there will be a successful intervention with the police doing patrols, doing community policing and engaging the resident, and eventually the resident leadership, to participate in the neighborhood watch,” Graham said.
He noted improvements were needed, though, especially as it pertained to security cameras in housing community “hot spots.”
“We still have to have the cameras fully operational,” he said.
Graham also spoke of community policing efforts on St. Croix at the John F. Kennedy housing community.
“Now we may not be able to say categorically that there is significant improvement, but what we can say is that the presence of the police at JFK has begun to make a difference in the community itself,” he said.
When it came to William’s Delight, both James “Monarch” Wakefield, its resident leader, and resident Daphne Edwards said more is needed to be done in terms of security.
Edwards said she heard too many gunshots at night.
Wakefield called William’s Delight a “dangerous community at night.”
Graham said police were committed to the area and supportive of community policing, but added manpower was an issue. To that end, Board Chairwoman Kimberly Wize asked if police could maybe shift manpower, even if on a daily basis, so to at least “have a presence in all our sites.”
“I think that would go a long way for all our residents and the community at large to create a safety net for the people we serve,” Wize said. “I do recognize the limitations the police force has, but I think working with our residents and creating our safety watch group… I think that could go a long way in helping us police our own property.”
Graham said the ultimate goal was to have residents participate in neighborhood watches and that the “good people and hard working people of our developments will stand tall within a neighborhood watch that is supported by the police.”
He added, “It’s a slow start, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
In other business, a resolution passed that approved an approximately $150,000 demolition contract for 12 units in buildings 1, 2 and 3 at the Michael J. Kirwan Terrace on St. Thomas.
“It’s time to remove these units and clear the land so that future plans can be realized,” Graham said.
In another large contract award, the result of a partnership with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, a resolution passed that could save the authority $1 million in its annual water bill at the Oswald E. Harris Court on St. Thomas.
The $1.5 million “investment” project – courtesy of grant funds and the assistance of DPNR – will revitalize the cisterns at Oswald Harris, while also constructing a reverse osmosis facility on-site that allows Oswald Harris to produce its own potable water by drilling into an existing well.
“This project has the potential to make Oswald Harris Court self-sustaining,” Graham said.
He added that future plans included replicating the cistern and reverse osmosis work done at Oswald Harris at a few other developments on St. Thomas where the annual water bills were greater than $1 million.
He said the project would have never gotten off the ground without DPNR’s support, especially from Commissioner Alicia Barnes.
“The partnership with DPNR is unprecedented for this housing authority. I couldn’t be more proud of the partnership we have with DPNR,” Graham said.
Wize joked that she knew little about osmosis, even less about reverse osmosis and potable water, but that she heard loud and clear the part about saving the authority money.
“I know a whole lot about reducing the water bill over 12 months by $1 million,” Wize said. “That I got and I’m really happy about that.”