Convening simultaneously at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room on St. John, and the Fritz E. Lawaetz Conference Room on St. Croix, the Legislature of the Virgin Islands held a tri-island town hall discussing the Virgin Islands Housing Authority’s 2024 Annual Plan in advance of the Sept. 5th deadline for public comment.
Chair of the Committee on Housing, Transportation and Telecommunications Senator Marvin A. Blyden reminded the public that the Virgin Islands, like the United States mainland, was in the middle of a housing crisis. Blyden informed the audience that paying attention to public comment was incredibly important to the housing plan. Blyden stated that without affordable housing to raise families, people will not stay in the USVI.
The annual plan is required by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. It guides the V.I. Housing Authority’s operations and spending for the coming year. VIHA must take public comment when finalizing its annual plan. It currently has 4,612 combined units. This includes 2,525 public housing units and 2,087 housing choice vouchers.
The current stock of the authority is at least 60 years old. According to the authority, it was poorly designed and inadequately designed. There is a 10-year, $2 billion-dollar plan to replace the housing stock.
This plan replaces 3,000 obsolete units of public housing and does not meet the projected need of 5,000 units. Updates proposed in the plan include the hiring of a third-party vendor to hear grievances and an increase in the security deposit required to secure an apartment from $205 to $500, an increase of housekeeping inspections and the establishment of an online payment portal.
Various members of the community voiced concerns regarding the plan as it related to income requirements for public housing, availability of units, as well as rent-to-own options. Community members voiced concern over lack of home ownership programs in the St. Thomas–St. John District.
Housing choice vouchers were also of major concern. Housing options for those who have returned to the community after serving time for criminal offenses were critiqued, citing a lack of proper policy and procedures.
In a closing statement, Blyden stated that the housing crisis was real and apparent. He said it was imperative that we do everything possible to improve the housing situation in the territory.
Senators present at today’s Town Hall included Marvin A. Blyden Marise C. James., Angel L. Bolques Jr., Samuel Carrión, Diane T. Capehart, Dwayne M. Degraff, Kenneth L. Gittens, Ray Fonseca and Carla J. Joseph.