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Developer Announces Affordable Housing, But Senators Question Monthly Costs

Feb. 22, 2007 — St. Thomas residents will soon have the opportunity to own their own three- or four-bedroom home in a new affordable-housing community planned for Estate Donoe, the developer says.
Applications for homeownership will be available through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority (HFA) and various local realty offices as early as next week, according to the project's developer, Carlos Caccimani. But Senators raised questions about monthly house payments of $2,200.
During a Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs Committee held Wednesday evening, senators unanimously put their stamp of approval on the development, which is a part of the authority's three-year housing initiative. Senators also approved a proposal to add one additional prototype unit to a small housing community in Estate Barren Spot on St. Croix.
Caccimani's company, Urbanika International Housing, owns the property on which both sets of homes will be constructed. During the meeting, Caccimani said the company also recently bought an additional 80 acres in Estate Orange Grove on St. Croix in hopes of constructing a third affordable-housing community.
Speaking to a crowd of approximately 100 community members, all tightly packed into the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, Caccimani excitedly described the development planned for St. Thomas. Called Raphune Vistas, the project will consist of 173 single-family homes built on the hillside behind Market Square East Plaza and Home Depot.
The homes will be priced in the $250,000 range, he added. Most will have three bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms, while some will have four bedrooms with 3 1/2 baths. The community itself will also feature three recreational areas and at least 30 guest parking spaces, with roads and sidewalks made of terracotta instead of traditional asphalt.
Replete with basketball courts, two-car parking garages and "exceptional views," the development will also offer easy access to local utilities, the developer says. Raphune Vistas will hook into the V.I. Water and Power Authority's potable-water network, taking advantage of a nearby 5.5 million-gallon water reserve tank, Caccimani said. Each house will also be equipped with solar power and built to withstand hurricane- and tornado-force winds, he added.
Residents let out sighs of pleasure as Caccimani passed around pictures of the proposed development. However, they were not as excited when senators began asking about the price of monthly mortgage payments, and the fact that potential buyers would have to meet a certain joint-income threshold to qualify for homeownership.
Couples with a joint income of up to $134,750 would be eligible to purchase the homes and meet the $2,200 monthly mortgage payments, said VIHFA Executive Director Clifford Graham. In order to obtain financing, these individuals would most likely have to go through local banks and other lending institutions, which have their own set interest rates, he added.
HFA is not yet in a position to provide financial assistance, since the local government has not turned over all money earmarked for affordable-housing initiatives, Graham said.
According to V.I. law, the authority should receive 30 percent of the territory's stamp-tax revenues, along with a portion of annual property taxes paid on units developed under the Affordable Housing Program. Since payments have not been made on a regular basis, Graham said, the government owes HFA about $12.5 million.
If the outstanding money is collected, the authority would be able to implement some "creative financing" initiatives, softening residents' mortgage payments, he added.
Senators said they would work with Gov. John deJongh Jr. to make sure the remainder of the funds gets transferred.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone, Usie R. Richards, Carmen Wesselhoft, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams. Three non-committee members also attended: Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill and Basil Ottley Jr.
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