V.I. Housing Authority board members voted Wednesday to move ahead with a contract not to exceed $4.6 million for the demolition of the former Ralph deChabert Housing Community in Christiansted, which has been vacant since 2003.
The board initially approved the site for “demolition and disposition” in June 2013 and a year later,V.I. Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham said federal funding had been awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the project. At a meeting this June, Graham said he expected to soon bring to the board two resolutions for approval: one for architectural and engineering services that would help prepare the site for demolition, and a second for the actual demolition.
HUD’s funding was to be obligated within a year and completely spent within two years, which Graham said the authority should be able to do.
The first of the two resolutions was approved by the board during Wednesday’s meeting, with the contract for the demolition going to RG Engineering. According to officials, seven bids for the project were received, ranging in price from $4.4 million to nearly $8 million. The scope of work includes the demolition of 45 residential units, one community building, a water tower and all other structures on the site.
The authority was awarded a $4.2 million in federal emergency capital grant funds for the demolition, and will take the additional $366,255 from a fiscal year 2014 capital fund grant award.
According to officials, building the development back up to federal standards would have cost the authority more than $64 million.
In a report sent to the board this week, Graham said the buildings on the site have continued to deteriorate over the years and there is now even greater liability for the authority as the property has seen an increase in illegal dumping, drug- and gang-related crime and the continued presence of children using the land as a playground.
In other action, the board approved a resolution authorizing the authority to enter into a contract for the purchase of 13 new vehicles to replace older ones in its fleet. The authority has 20 vehicles, and five will be traded in as part of the purchase package.
Graham said Wednesday that the authority’s existing fleet is aging; several cars are “beyond the normal life expectancy for most fleet motor vehicles.” The 10 vehicles from Metro Motors will be distributed between St. Thomas and St. Croix and will be used by the modernization, Housing Choice Voucher program and asset management divisions, along with the executive office. According to the resolution, the contract amount is not to exceed $225,465.
The board also discussed development of an emergency mass housing plan dealing with residents displaced by a major storm or other disaster. Officials said Wednesday that the practice within their emergency housing program, inherited when the housing component of the former Housing, Parks and Recreation department was transferred to the authority, was that “residents would move in but never move out,” which has greatly reduced the number of emergency units available.
The authority is two-thirds of the way through a process to establish memorandums of understanding between the authority and 15 stakeholders that would allow any available units to be used as true emergency housing for disaster victims in need, while mandating that they find permanent rental housing after a certain amount of time. Graham said Wednesday that the plan should be presented for review at the board’s next meeting.
Also discussed Wednesday was the authority’s ongoing partnership with the V.I. Next Generation Network for public computer centers at five Housing Authority sites on St. Thomas and three on St. Croix. According to Housing Authority Technology Director Peter Mitchell, viNGN has paid for the build-out of each site and the fiber, leaving the authority to cover the cost of utilities and actual Internet service.
Mitchell explained later that the cost of Internet, which would be purchased from a local internet service provider, was not initially budgeted for and is costing the authority approximately $300 per site per month. It was originally thought viNGN would pay for the service, but Mitchell said that as the authority went through the process of getting the PCC’s up and running, the cost was turned over to the authority.
Present during Wednesday’s meeting were board members George Blackhall, Daphne Edwards, Chris Finch, Colette Jones, Noreen Michael, Luis Sylvester and Adrienne Williams.