VIHA Updates Board on Projects

p>The V.I. Housing Authority Board of Commissioners received updates Tuesday on projects ranging from the construction of senior housing on St. Thomas to the demolition of a housing community on St. Croix. They approved several resolutions at the monthly meeting.

Sugar Estate housing for seniors on St. Thomas will be 93 percent complete by April 30, according to VIHA Executive Director Robert Graham. A ribbon cutting is planned for May 20 and 18 families have already moved in. And with 80 names on a waiting list, the project eventually should be fully occupied, said Akala Anthony, director of the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Responding to questions from VIHA commissioners Luis Sylvester and George Blackhall, Chief Operating Officer Lydia Pell said flooding around building “B,” which was built against a steep hill, should not be a problem. The erosion plan, approved by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, has been tested twice and she said she “feels comfortable with it.”

On St. Croix, the demolition of Ralph de Chabert housing community, vacant since 2003, continues with 41 of 47 structures leveled as of this week, Graham said. Seventy-five percent of the funding – $3.9 million – has been expended and the project should be completed with grading and seeding of the waterfront property by June 5, he said.

Pell told the commissioners that asbestos has been removed from the property and is being stored in trailers until it is shipped to Jacksonville, Fla. Responding to a question, she said that DPNR inspections have been timely.

Twelve families have been approved for home ownership in Estate Williams Delight and Pell projected that four homebuyers would be in their residences by May. However, three are missing titles, insurance policies and other documents and, without the required documents, the closing date “will move,” she said.

Graham and Antonio Cordova, representative from U.S. Housing and Urban Development, talked about the deadline for a two-year monitoring plan and a long-term development plan for the territory.

In 2003, HUD took over the agency and returned it to the Virgin Islands in 2014, with continued support and deadlines. By the May deadline, 18 of 35 HUD stipulated tasks will have been completed, Graham said.

Cordova said the development plan will be presented at the next board meeting and it will be up to commissioners to approve it before sharing the document with the governor’s housing task force and other agencies. HUD will recommend projects for mitigation, development and demolition throughout the territory and include available resources, potential funding and budgets.

During one discussion, the board expressed concerns with a contract for surveillance cameras with Alliance Data Services/Smartnet. According to Sylvester, the company president, Michael Carty, testified before the V.I. Legislature in February that some companies would have a hard time staying in business if V.I. Next Generation Network provides Internet connectivity for all of the government agencies.

The viNGN network was built primarily with federal grant funds and was created to wholesale services to local Internet service providers. During the Senate hearing, there was discussion about viNGN providing Internet directly to consumers.

Graham and Pell met with the Alliance last week and discussed a 300-400 day schedule. They said they didn’t get the impression there was any problem fulfilling the contract.

Board Chairwoman Noreen Michaels requested monthly updates and Graham said he will “monitor the project extremely closely.”

Among the approved resolutions was a two-year contract for legal services from Dudley, Rich and Davis LLP with the possibility of three one-year extensions, and a $175,000 contract with O’Reilly Plumbing and Construction for services at Alphonso Piggy Gerard housing community.

Also attending the meeting were commissioners Adrienne Williams and Colette Jones.

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