V.I. Housing Authority Board members on Wednesday approved "an asset repositioning plan" that would establish a framework for the authority to rehab or rebuild housing units, but which drew concern from some residents.
The plan was presented by Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham at the meeting in St. Thomas.
“At the heart of this as a repositioning plan is the constraint of construction costs, which according to the document is about $400,000 per unit, and this framework says that based on the plans we have available, these are the projects we can prioritize and these are the funds we have available,” Graham said.
While board members said they supported creating such a plan, residents attending the meeting and speaking over the phone from St. Croix said they were concerned about the possible demolition of the William’s Delight community and the waiting list of residents who want the chance to purchase their homes. One resident said it would be cheaper to rehab the units than tear them down, but Graham and board chair Noreen Michael said that with the establishment of the repositioning plan, the authority is able to see the reality of what it costs on both sides.
“We’re talking about a cost of at least $150,000 to repair one of the units that we would sell for $20,000 or $30,000, maybe $50,000,” Michael said. “Where does that leave the authority?”
Board members said that if they don’t have the money to rehab the current housing stock, another option would be to demolish vacant structures that have become “eyesores,” which is also a component of the plan.
“Again, we have to look at long term where we are as an authority, what our financial position is, and what it would cost us to repair a unit,” Michael said. Specifically for William’s Delight, board members said that eight units are unoccupied and Graham said that there are plans in place to convert 66 units into one-bedroom units.
The board members also discussed concerns about a still-unsigned agreement finalizing the return of the authority to local control, and what conditions the federal government has included that cannot be met, such as continuous waste collection.
Some board members attending the meeting on St. Thomas said the language now included by U.S. Housing and Urban Development, which previously managed VIHA through a federal receivership, is different from the first version of the agreement, which was made three years ago.
It’s up to the local government now to “reaffirm” what it will do and what it won’t, they added.