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Housing Officials Address Path Forward at Senate Hearing

Executive Director Dwayne Alexander said maintenance and employee morale were key issues for the Virgin Islands Housing Authority. (Screenshot from V.I. Legislature Facebook live stream)

Halfway through a full-day meeting of the Senate’s Housing, Transportation and Telecommunication Committee Wednesday, word spread that longtime Virgin Islands Housing Authority Director Robert Graham had died. Sen. Marvin A. Blyden, the committee chairperson, called for a moment of silence.

Blyden said while he didn’t always agree with Graham, “His heart was in the right place.”

Graham had led the authority since 2008 and retired at the end of 2023. So synonymous was Graham with housing in the territory that Blyden seemed to slip up not long later and called current Virgin Islands Housing Authority Executive Director Dwayne Alexander “Director Graham.”

The senator didn’t seem to notice the apparent flub and continued questioning Alexander about the islands’ housing crisis.

Alexander, on the job less than three weeks, said the authority managed 2,536 housing units across the territory and, as of early February, had 2,222 unresolved work orders.

Federal standards call for work orders to be resolved within 11 days, Alexander said, while industry standards are less than five days. In December, the authority completed 792 work orders, many of which were more than 91 days outstanding. This was in addition to managing routine work orders.

“There are two major factors regarding the high number of work orders: The availability of supplies and materials and the reduction in the number of budgeted maintenance positions for hire,” Alexander said.

He stopped short of calling for more staff, however, saying it was better to train existing staff to do repairs for several reasons. While saving money by not hiring contractors, training in-house also gave a much-needed boost to employee morale, he said.

“That will be a big priority, staff morale,” Alexander said. “I think the Housing Authority has been very aggressive in making sure there are developments in the pipeline but also we want to make sure we take care of our existing properties.”

Earlier in the day, representatives of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority said they were taking an aggressive approach to building new housing.

“VIHFA seeks to provide affordable homeownership to low- and moderate-income families; educate potential homebuyers on ways to achieve homeownership; provide loss mitigation counseling to homeowners so that they maintain homeownership; and create sustainable communities. This undertaking is accomplished through prequalifying, financing, educating, and counseling potential buyers and current homeowners,” said Dayna Clendinen, the authority’s chief disaster recovery officer and interim executive director.

The long-stalled Donoe housing project has apparently resumed, and two turnkey homes are projected to be completed by autumn. The rest of the 84 apartments in 14 buildings near schools, job centers, the public library, pharmacies, grocery shopping, banks and public transportation will have to wait until 2025, Clendinen said.

The reconstruction project broke ground in January 2021 with a goal of completion at the end of 2022. Environmental and contract issues scuttled the deadline.

The authority was also reviewing a proposal for the construction of up to 100 single-family dwellings and infrastructure in Estate Bonne Esperance, St. Croix, seven new units in Mount Pleasant; and 20 turnkey homes in Fortuna, St. Thomas, and 16 new townhomes at the Queen Louise Apartments in 2024.

Work is underway for 2025 at Cotton Valley, St. Croix, where 20 one-half acre lots are for sale, as well as Estate Jealousy, where the construction of up to six single-family homes has been completed.

Estate Solitude, St. Croix — the proposal to construct up to six single-family dwellings and infrastructure — was not viable. However, given the projected commencement of up to four projects this year, this project is deferred until the first quarter of 2025.

Plans to subdivide Estate Nazareth, St. Thomas, may also need some time. Some 30 lots and 40 homes for sale have been deferred until the first quarter of 2025.

In St. John’s Estate Bethany, the proposal to construct up to six single-family dwellings and infrastructure was not viable. However, given the projected commencement dates of up to four projects this year, this project is deferred until the second quarter in 2025, Clendinen said.

“We’re putting the planning back in our developments,” said Stephanie Berry, chief operating officer at the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority.

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