Oct. 22, 2004 Action was taken in the Senate Thursday to pave the way for the construction of over 458 new affordable housing units in the territory. Associated revenues from construction, over the next two years, proponents said, are estimated at over $72 million.
The projects are slated to begin between now and January 2005.
In St. Thomas, 96 rental units are planned for a second phase of the Lovenlund Apartments. St. Croix has two projects: 75 to 100 single-family homes in Concordia Estates and the 14-unit Bougainvillea Gardens apartment complex for persons with disabilities. On St. John, 48 rental apartments will be constructed in Calabash Boom.
Occupants of the rental apartments in Lovenlund and Calabash Boom will have the opportunity to purchase the units through a program that sets aside a portion of their rental payments toward the purchase price.
The committee on Housing, Parks and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Emmett Hansen II, voted to ratify the second amendment to the three-year Affordable Housing Initiative, which was approved in 2002. The amendment puts in place the mechanism to allow the new construction to proceed. The projects are being developed through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority but required Senate approval because developers receive government tax credits to offset the costs of construction.
"This gives me hope," committee member Sen. Luther F. Renee, said of the construction schedule.
Renee said the infusion of an estimated $72,669,440 over the next two years into the economy will help to offset the negative impact which may stem from the possible pullout of EDC companies.
"Building homes can be an economic boon. Homeowners pay taxes, and there are revenues created during the construction phase," Sen. Renee said.
In his testimony before the committee, Clifford Graham, executive director of the V.I. Housing Finance Authority, said almost 3,000 people territorywide are on waiting lists to purchase housing.
Jackson Roberts is the contact person for Reliance Housing Foundation, the contractor for the Lovenlund apartments. He told the committee residents are anticipating the project completion in April 2006. "There is a high demand," he said. "We are nowhere close to meeting the demand."
Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands is listed as the developer of the Bougainvillea Garden apartments. Chris Finch, LSS executive director, said applicants will be prioritized by greatest needs, such as abuse or homelessness. The development will rehabilitate the existing vacant building at the corner of King and Market streets in Frederiksted, commonly known as the Heyliger building. Finch said LSS purchased the building outright through the bank with HUD funds for $600,000. He emphasized the complex will not be a homeless shelter. The project's estimated completion date is December 2006.
John R. Wessel represented GEC, LLC, the contractor for Concordia Estates affordable housing development. He said the new homes will be three bedroom/one bath, three bedroom/two bath or four bedroom/two bath units. All homes will have covered porches and cost from $99,000 to $139,000. The new homes, equipped with hurricane-compliant truss roofs, hurricane shutters on all windows and ceramic tile floors, will be located on Centerline road across from the Estate Whim Greathouse. The estimated completion date for these homes is December 2006.
Responding to questions from committee member Sen. Usie R. Richards, Roberts said the "hard cost" of construction on St. Thomas/St. John would be $20 million and $13.5 million on St. Croix.
"The high cost of land and construction is a major impediment," said Roberts. "The amendment will assist with the land component and reduce the cost considerably."
Roberts noted construction costs $110 per square foot on St. Thomas , $170 square foot on St. John and $90 per square foot on St. Croix. He said the St. Croix cost is lower because the salary base is lower, and St. John's cost is "over the top."
Sen. Renee commented on the swift pace of the construction. There seem always to be "unnecessary stumbling blocks in the way of capital projects, but that does not seem to be the case here," Renee said.
Graham credited the Lt. Governor's office, DPNR and Keith Richards, assistant to the governor for capital projects, for "streamlining the process."
Following the vote, recorded as three yeas, two absent, Sen. Hansen thanked his colleagues for their support. "Every senator has supported this measure," Hansen said.
Sens. David S. Jones and Celestino White were absent for the meeting.
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