"If you violate, you will vacate."
"One strike and you're out."
The V.I. Housing Authority has strong slogans to describe the policy of evicting tenants involved in criminal activity. Now the agency is trying to ensure that it isn't easier said than done.
This week VIHA announced the arrest of Haneef Abiff in connection with the recovery of a semi-automatic Glock weapon and said his family can face eviction.
His is one of numerous cases in which VIHA is seeking to enforce a national policy aimed at weeding the criminal element out of federally funded public housing.
"We're looking at the most serious cases," said VIHA executive director Conrad Francois. That means ones involving drugs, guns and/or violent crime.
Chief Fitzroy Williams, head of the 3-year-old Housing Authority Police, said VIHA has crime-related eviction proceedings pending against 45 people on St. Croix and 15 on St. Thomas.
In the past year, VIHA officers have found three unregistered firearms in St. Thomas public housing and six on St. Croix, Williams said. They included a shotgun, an Uzie and the Glock as well as smaller caliber guns.
As for drugs, Williams said, "every week there's something."
"Something" ranges from the 321 marijuana plants recently found growing just outside the Bovoni Housing Community to the relatively small amount of drugs left behind when an officer's approach scatters a group of people. The contraband is "occasionally crack cocaine" or more often marijuana.
"We very seldom find it 'in possession of'" Williams said, so usually the drugs are disposed of rather than held for evidence. "Generally we've used the incinerator at the hospital to get rid of them."
In cases where an individual is identified, VIHA can evict him as well as the leaseholder of the unit in which he resides. If the individual is not a resident but a visitor, his host may be evicted.
It is not necessary to wait for a conviction, either.
However, Francois said, a St. Croix judge recently granted a continuance to three people VIHA was evicting. The public defender argued that they had not received a grievance hearing, the normal proceeding for any type of eviction.
Francois said VIHA will hold the hearings "while we apply to HUD" (U.S. Housing and Urban Development ) for a waiver of the grievance proceeding in cases involving the safety of residents and/or authority staff.
"This is not an easy thing to implement," Francois noted. "We're going to look at this thing on a case-by-case basis." But it is important for residents to understand that criminal activity by a guest or a family member "triggers an automatic review for eviction," he said.