Marking the first step toward possible new senior housing on St. Thomas, the Finance Committee voted Tuesday to authorize the V.I. Public Finance Authority to raise $650,000 in matching funds for a $19.5 million federal affordable senior housing development.
The local funding would go to help purchase land near Schneider Regional Medical Center on which to build the center, said Sen. Celestino White, the bill’s sponsor.
Human Services Commissioner Christopher E. Finch testified in favor of the measure, saying the U.S. Virgin Islands’ population is aging rapidly and will need more facilities soon.
There were about 6,500 people over 65 in the territory in 1990; 9,100 in 2000; and about 15,900 in 2010, increasing from 6.4 percent to 14.5 percent of the population, Finch said.
Finch recommended changing the bill’s source of funding from the overextended General Fund to whatever funds are available. With no objection, White offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute asking the V.I. Public Finance Authority to provide the funds by re-appropriating existing bond funds or creating new debt and reducing the total to $650,000 from $1.2 million.
V.I. Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham testified in support of the bill too. VIHA, which uses federal money to run the territory’s public housing, is in federal receivership and Graham is a federal appointee.
Like Finch, Graham emphasized there is a growing need for affordable housing for seniors. "In our estimation we should plan to triple the number of affordable housing units in the territory over the next five to ten years," Graham said regarding senior citizen housing specifically.
Right now on St. Thomas, there are three developments with 152 apartments for seniors, Graham said. Lucinda Millin Home accounts for 85 of those. VIHA plans to build about 80 units of new housing for seniors in a multi-story building with elevators, he said. The authority anticipates the whole project will cost about $19.5 million, with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Equity funds, federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program funds, U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, VIHA funding, and some local funding all helping to defray the costs, he said.
If all goes well, and the local $650,000 materializes, along with some $19 million in federal funding, the project has a tight schedule, with plans to finish construction and begin occupancy by the end of 2013, Graham said.
Finance Commissioner Angel Dawson also testified in support of the measure.
Voting to send the bill on for further consideration were: White, Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Janette Millin-Young, and Sammuel Sanes. Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly was absent, reportedly due to a rain-delay to her flight to St. Thomas.
The committee also approved two leases of government land:
- Parcel No. 89 Remainder Subbase, St. Thomas, consisting of about 142,200 square feet , with a 3,200 square foot two story steel building, for Chevron to store and market bulk petroleum, at $13,983 rent per month.
- Parcel No. 86 Subbase, St. Thomas, renewing the lease of generator sales and maintenance company MLC Holdings for two steel buildings, one wooden structure and a parking lot, of about 16,152 square feet, at a rent of $3,446 per month.