Sept. 9, 2005 – Castle Burke homeowners filled the Legislative Conference Room in Frederiksted on Friday night for the Senate Committee on Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs meeting. They demanded action from contractor John Wessel, president, General Engineering Corporation and Ira Hobson, Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioner.
Problems at Castle Burke, where 118 affordable houses have already been built by Wessel and where he is proposing to build eight more, came to light in a hearing Aug. 23. (See "Castle Burke Residents Air Complaints of Poor Housing").
Senators, in the words of chairman of Celestino White, did not want to get in the way of "eight more Virgin Islands families living their dream of owning their own home," but they were also clearly upset by complaints presented by owners of homes built just three years ago in Castle Burke.
Homeowners had three major concerns water leaking in around windows and doors, floor tiles pealing off the floor, and an overgrown common area.
Wessel and Hobson quickly agreed to replace caulking and weather strips around the doors and windows and to replace door thresholds. To replace the vinyl tiles, however, was another matter.
Wessel said the vinyl tiles were inappropriate for the weather conditions in the Virgin Island, but the decision was made based on the fact that all the houses would be sold for $60,000. He estimated that the cost to replace all the floors in the houses would cost more than $300,000. He offered to pay some of that cost "a substantial amount" — but would not go on the record with a number. It was suggested that the Senate pay a third, the contractor pay a third and the Housing Department pay a third.
Paul Payne, president of the homeowner's association, showed a video he had taken of homes in the project. One woman's floor was so bad that instead of mopping the floor, she picked up tiles one at a time and wiped them off. The video also showed an overgrown common area. Payne pleaded to White, "help the needy, not the greedy."
Payne said if the common area was cleared and leveled once, the homeowners would then take over maintenance of it.
Hobson said his department had cleared the area once before but the department would do it again.
Hobson said the houses in Castle Burke were now appraised at $87,000.
After hearing the complaints and receiving the promises, the senators quickly approved adding eight more houses. They also voted to move proposals for three other affordable housing projects on to the full senate. Two projects are on St. Croix — Sion Hills and Lorraine Village Apartments.
The third project is by Habitat for Humanity for a house on St. Thomas.
The Habitat for Humanity project elicited little discussion. Andrian Bishop speaking about the project said that land on Garden Street had been donated and the group hopes to break ground in January. He said Habitat for Humanity had tried to establish itself several times before in the Virgin Islands, but "This time I am confident it will happen."
Barshinger said before voting on Habitat as an affordable housing provider, "This is an easy one."
Sion Hills is a proposal to develop 225 affordable housing units on 63 acres by Innovative Asset Croup, Inc. The Lorraine Village Apartments already exist, but a transfer of ownership is in the making. The new owner wants to continue in the affordable housing program.
Attending the meeting were Sens. White, Pedro Encarnacion, Barshinger, Usie Richards, Juan Figueroa-Serville and Ronald Russell.
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