March 22, 2006 – Complaints and concerns aired by Bournefield residents at a V.I. Port Authority board meeting Wednesday received no response from board members. Instead, the VIPA tenants were told they would have to wait another two weeks before they could meet with VIPA Executive Director Darlan Brin to discuss issues pertaining to their impending eviction.
Tenants have said they were asked to vacate the Bournefield area – in which some of them have lived for more than 40 years – in a letter sent by the authority on March 6. However, the letter did not specify by what date the residents would have to move or whether the government would provide them with alternative housing. According to the letter, the site will house the new Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, while the land on which Cancryn currently sits will be given to VIPA for commercial use (See "Bournefield Tenants Aim to Fight Eviction").
"Two weeks is just not acceptable," longtime Bournefield resident Josephine Lindquist said after Wednesday's meeting. "They should have had a plan in mind before deciding to kick us out of their homes, but they didn't, and that's why we're here. We wanted them to know that we didn't appreciate the callousness of the letter, and that we should be treated with some respect instead of being treated poorly because of our socioeconomic standing in the community."
While more than 30 Bournefield residents came to Wednesday's meeting – along with Sens. Liston Davis and Celestino A. White Sr. – only Lindquist was able to speak, since board members asked the group to choose one individual to represent them.
"Many of the tenants were frustrated by that," Lindquist said after the meeting. "Many of them had a lot of things to discuss – like why our rent has continued to climb while our living conditions are not improving. And while I did get a chance to ask the board some questions, they did not respond with any answers; instead, they said they didn't know we were coming today, so they weren't prepared to deal with our questions. It was not a very productive meeting for us at all."
During the meeting, Lindquist explained that many residents at Bournefield are either on fixed incomes or are retired and can't afford the high price of real estate in the territory. "I looked in the paper – there is no three-bedroom apartment on this island that goes for less than $1,000," she said.
Lindquist added that residents had attempted to contact VIPA personnel to find out whether the government would provide them with alternative housing, but were unable to reach an authority representative.
When asked during the meeting, board members said a housing plan for the residents is being developed but would not specify further.
After the meeting, Brin said he wants to reveal the plan to the residents when they meet again in two weeks.
"Who is responsible for sending us the letter? Who made the decision to build a new school where we live? We know that we have to be out by August, but why isn't there a set date?" Lindquist further questioned after the meeting.
"The central government has already said they don't know anything about Cancryn coming to Bournefield. What they've been saying is that there were many sites considered, but that no final decision had been made," Lindquist added.
When asked after the meeting, Brin said VIPA conducted a study in 2004 to determine the best spot for the school and recommended to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull that Bournefield be selected as the site.
"The governor made the decision last December to actually build the school based on VIPA's study and our recommendation of Bournefield as the preferred site," he said. "The Port Authority did not act upon this decision until the governor announced in the State of the Territory address that money has been identified for the new school – it was after that that we started to get moving."
Brin said the August eviction date was selected based on a construction schedule circulated by the central government. When asked, Brin said he did not yet know whether a contractor has been selected for the project.
"The residents do have some legitimate concerns," he added. "And I will meet with them to see what can be done."
Residents, however, remain skeptical that there will be another meeting. "They said they would meet with us before and nothing happened," Keith Fleming, a 15-year Bournefield resident said after the meeting. "We'll see if they'll keep their promise this time."
"And if they don't, then we're just going to keep going to board meetings until they listen to us," Lindquist added.
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