April 24, 2006 – Expecting solutions, a large group of Bournefield residents packed into the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on Monday evening to hear what senators, V.I. Port Authority representatives and housing officials had to say about their upcoming eviction. However, instead of getting answers, the VIPA tenants were once again told that there are few public housing opportunities currently available, and that VIPA would try to provide them with as much assistance as possible.
"There is no recourse here at all," said longtime Bournefield resident Edward Bertrand, after hearing testimony from Ira Hobson, Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioner, and Clifford Graham, executive director of the Housing Finance Authority.
Bertrand explained that he had been told the same things at two other meetings recently held with VIPA officials. "For once I would like to go to a meeting and have something happen. Talk is cheap," he said.
Bertrand further outlined a list of complaints he had been trying to get addressed for the past 20 years – including broken windows, crumbling walls and increasing rent prices. "It's embarrassing for us to live like this," he said, telling senators that Bournefield used to be a "beautiful" community.
"And despite our complaints, the Port has never fixed a thing."
Residents seemed to get more frustrated when Darlan Brin, executive director of the Port Authority, said he would be sticking to the August eviction date unless the government decides to "relax" the schedule for construction.
"The driving force behind this project is not the Port Authority, it's the government," Brin said. "And if the government decides to amend the schedule, then the board can relax on the date."
Brin said he sent eviction notices to the Bournefield residents in early March, after twice meeting with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and other public officials about selecting the area as the preferred site for the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School.
He said that in those meetings, Turnbull indicated that he had identified funding for the project, and authorized VIPA to proceed with developing a construction schedule.
Brin said that Keith Richards, Turnbull's special assistant in charge of capital projects, was also at the last meeting held to discuss the issue, and that former Public Finance Authority Executive Director Kenneth Mapp, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, and Hobson were teleconferenced in.
Hobson was not questioned by senators Monday about his participation in the meeting with Turnbull.
However, Brin was extensively questioned about where the funding to build another school would be coming from. "I'm unaware of any funding that has gone through the Legislature for the relocation of the Cancryn School," Sen. Louis P. Hill said during the meeting.
"So I don't know where we're getting this money. But it seems like the PFA has a lot of money that they're doing things with which the Legislature is not aware of – clearly, we have to investigate that.
"Still, there are no plans for a school that I know of, and I really don't know how we're going to develop all these plans and be ready to begin construction on this site in August. It's impossible – it's not going to happen," he continued.
Hill added that a bond issue did come down to Senate for authorization in 2004 – which included funding for three new schools – but was rejected because there "was no information provided by the government as to why the new schools were needed or what the design plans were."
While many discussed subpoenaing PFA officials to testify on the matter, there was no motion made to do so at the end of the meeting.
It was also not clear whether there would be another meeting on the issue, where Michael and Richards could also provide information as to the development of the school.
When asked about how the VIPA plans to provide assistance to residents, Brin said there has been no money set aside to help the tenants pay for alternative housing options. He said that some residents in the area also do not need "direct assistance" because they either earn as much as $80,000 annually, own other properties or rent other properties which help to generate additional income.
Sen. Celestino A. White, who has been a constant presence at meetings involving the Bournefield tenants, took exception to Brin's statement, and pointed out that residents earned significantly less money when they initially moved in.
"Housing is granted based on the amount of income you're earning when you move in," he said. "So when you say that some are making in excess of $80,000, it means that they started to earn that after they moved in."
Brin said the site on which Cancryn currently sits would be used to accommodate the influx of containers coming into the territory, which, he said, is causing the Port Authority's facilities at Crown Bay Marina to "burst at the seams."
"We need room for expansion," he said.
However, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said that VIPA wants to relocate the school so it could benefit from the acquisition of the property. "In this case, I think the residents should consider a class action suit against the Port and the government to make sure they get housing accommodations," he added.
While other senators suggested that Brin talk to the VIPA Board about asking the government to reconsider the August eviction date, Brin did not say whether or not he would do so.
Present at Monday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Donastorg, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Hill and White.
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