Aug. 23, 2005 – Donna Pickard told V.I. senators Tuesday that her dream of owning a home has turned into a nightmare. Paul Payne said he has fallen into a state of limbo after working to own his home through the affordable housing program.
Both of them have been fighting the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation and the management of GEC at Castle Burke for more than two years over problems with their homes in the development.
In September of last year, they founded a Castle Burke homeowners' association. He is president; she is vice-president. But the only thing that has come out of it is the knowledge that 92 residents living in the first 101 homes built in the development have problems similar to theirs.
"We are all suffering," Pickard said. "The children have no place to play. We have no cistern. If it rains, I can't walk into my house."
The most common complaints are water leaking into the houses and the tile on the floor curling up at the edges. Pickard said her son tripped over a tile, hit his head and had to be taken to the emergency room. Another common complaint is cracked foundations.
According to Payne and Pickard, their purchase agreements gave a one-year warranty on the houses. Pickard said, "The warranty is not an issue. I complained the day I moved in." She said she made a list of the problems and presented it to the Department of Housing, the developer of the project, before the warranty ran out.
Payne said he listed the problems with the house before he even moved in. He showed reporters a letter with the Department of Housing letterhead and the words "work not completed."
Pickard said the situation was aggravated by the way the residents were treated. When residents complained about the tile curling, she said, they were told that they use too much water when they mop the floor.
She said she gets the feeling from the Department of Housing that its attitude is, "You only paid $60,000 for the house. Don't expect it not to leak and the foundation not to crack. Don't expect good workmanship."
They aired their complaints as the Senate Committee on Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs was taking testimony concerning a third amendment to the 2002 Affordable Housing Plan.
The amendment included eight additional units for the Castle Burke development, which already has 117 units completed. Sixteen units were completed last year, and those home owners were not part of the homeowners' association. Payne said, however, that five of those owners reported to the association that they were experiencing some of the same problems.
Sen. Celestino White, chairman of the committee, said, "It would be an injustice to approve more development while the present residents face such problems, such insurmountable problems."
Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion first brought up the concerns of the residents at Castle Burke.
White expressed dissatisfaction that no one from Housing, Parks and Recreation came to the hearing to testify. Clifford Graham, executive director of the V.I. Housing Finance Authority, said the commissioner was off island.
"What about the assistant commissioner, the deputy commissioner?" White asked.
Two other projects, Sion Hills and Lorraine Village Apartments, that would be part of the amendment appeared to have committee support, but no action could be taken because the committee did not have a quorum.
Sion Hills is a proposal to develop 225 affordable housing units on 63 acres by Innovative Asset Croup, Inc.
The Lorraine Village Apartments already exist, but a transfer of ownership is in the making. The new owner wants to continue in the affordable housing program.
Attending the meeting were Sens. White, Encarnacion, Craig Barshinger, Juan Figueroa-Serville and Norman Jn Baptiste.
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