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HomeNewsLocal newsUrban Land Institute Advises VIHA on Rebuilding Frederiksted

Urban Land Institute Advises VIHA on Rebuilding Frederiksted

14A and 14C, Strand Street, Frederiksted, St. Croix. (Source photo)

At the request of the V.I. Housing Authority, the Urban Land Institute, based in Washington, D.C., formed a panel, visited St. Croix and wrote a report with recommendations for the agency’s redevelopment plan. The first suggestion was that the agency hires a chief housing officer to rebuild and construct new housing communities in Frederiksted after the 2017 hurricanes.

The Urban Land Institute, founded in 1936, comprises more than 45,000 real estate and urban development professionals. Since 1947, ULI Advisory Services has formed expert panels to advise sponsors, such as VIHA, on how to formulate land use plans and development. For five days, the panel interviews sponsors and stakeholders to create and write its final recommendations.

In 2018, ULI conducted a survey of Christiansted for the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development. 

The panel studying Frederiksted interviewed more than 75 stakeholders as well as employees of the Housing Authority. The panel included individuals from Georgia, Michigan, New York, and Illinois who work as planning and development directors, investors, and realty advisors. 

The panel identified challenges for the West End town including hurricanes and recovery, COVID-10, and said the historical significance of St. Croix is not “widely understood, documented or promoted.” They stated that while change is difficult, it will be necessary to reinforce St. Croix’s identity and redefine the future.

VIHA executive director Robert Graham told the Source how the agency has responded to the key recommendations from the Urban Land Institute:

CREATE KEY PARTNERSHIPS

In response to the first ULI recommendation to create a chief housing officer position, Graham said the V.I. Office of Disaster Recovery’s director Adrienne Williams Octalien serves that function. 

She and the governor set policy, prioritize resources and provide oversight for Government agencies’ major projects. 

“Ultimately, I think that recommendation is well implemented,” Graham said.

DEVELOP ORGANIZATIONAL AND STAFF CAPACITY. 

VIHA agreed with that suggestion, and is expanding staff, Graham said, and since January, directors of development, portfolio management, and residence services have been hired.

PRIORITIZE PHASING ACCORDING TO FUNDING AVAILABILITY

Graham said the Authority is to replace all 3000 public housing units over a 10-year period – half will be new and the other half will be modernized – 300 each year. There are three developers who will construct 100 units each with HUD’s Community Development Block Grant, FEMA funds, and other monies. There are four projects in progress currently, according to Graham. 

Graham added that the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and will provide funds for housing. Those monies in addition to FEMA, CBDG, and tax credits should be sufficient funding, he said.

CONDUCT EFFECTIVE AND INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Graham said this recommendation is also being implemented. VIHA is working to have resident advocates become part of resident councils. Currently, there are only three councils for 22 communities. Six more councils are being developed “to participate in everything we do” by the end of this year and six more councils will be formed by the end of next year.

“We’ll have two-thirds of the residents’ councils. Making sure they become involved because we’re offering a stipend to the five individuals on the residents’ councils to attend the meetings,” Graham said.

EMPOWER RESIDENTS

Bright Paths is a comprehensive resident services program that will be the pattern for Housing Authority’s program. The three developers and their investors have agreed to fund the program by setting up reserves of  $500 per unit, per year, for 15 years. For instance, when completed, Walter I.M. Hodge housing community will have 248 units with $1.9 million in reserves, from low-income housing tax equity. This will cover roughly $126,000 in resident services for each community, each year, Graham said. 

To help residents build careers, Graham said they plan to create profiles of every individual in the household. 

Recently there was a job fair and 30 residents were hired to work with the subcontractors, he said.

FOCUS ON RESILIENCE

The housing community reconstruction will focus on best practices and guidelines to build units to withstand Category 5 hurricanes. Some funds will be used to install microturbines.

“Hopefully our projects will be off the grid with battery backups and microturbines,” he said.

The Land Institute panel said that during its time on St. Croix, they were surprised to learn that residents are skeptical of VIHA and that the agency needs to build trust with businesses, community, territory leaders, and residents. Also, V.I. leaders must work to build more effective partnerships with public, private and community stakeholders, the report stated. 

“The panel believes that in order to build that trust, VIHA must honor and celebrate the history of Frederiksted. This recognition must include the territory’s trauma of a colonial legacy and its continuing disadvantages and injustices,” the report said. 

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