Although V.I. Port Authority officials said Friday at a meeting of the Legislature’s Housing and Labor Committee that the agency needs the eight acres where the Bournefield Housing sits for Cyril E. King Airport operations, Committee Chairman Sen. Celestino White said he’s going forward with a bill to convert the units to home ownership.
The Port Authority suggested a compromise in which it gets to utilize the eight acres in exchange for hillside land it owns. The V.I. Housing Finance Authority could then build units on that hillside property.
According to Port Authority Director Kenn Hobson, an increase in the number of airlines flying to the territory calls for more ancillary buildings to support their activities.
“As we expand our airport with more tenants and more airlines, our facilities are being squeezed,” Hobson said.
After White said there is still a calculated effort to get the tenants out, Hobson said that it is the Port Authority board’s policy to demolish units when they become vacant. Port Authority attorney Don Mills said the agency now hopes to have the tenants gone in five years.
Several of the senators as well as Port Authority officials agreed that the Port Authority should not operate housing; rather, that job belongs to the V.I. Housing Finance Authority or the Housing Authority.
What prevents the Port Authority from getting rid of the housing units appears to be a covenant written when the U.S. Navy transferred the property to the territorial government which was passed along to the Port Authority. Mills said it indicates the property can’t be used for anything other than aviation activities or ownership will revert to the federal government.
However, after several hours of discussion, the Port Authority agreed that it could petition the Federal Aviation Administration to change that provision.
“We want you to set it up,” White said.
The Port Authority took over ownership of the property in 1968. The land and buildings were originally owned by the Navy, which deeded the two parcels totaling 92 acres to the local government. The local government gave it to the Port Authority when the agency was formed in 1968. The units date to the 1940s when the Navy built temporary housing.
“The plumbing and electrical are not up to standards we [have] today,” Hobson said.
Property manager Denise Mills said there are 35 structures on the properties. A total of 18 of are single-family units with the other 17 duplexes. There are a total of 42 tenants.
She said tenants in the one-bedroom units pay $350 a month. Those in the two-bedroom units pay $450 a month. Rent on the three-bedroom units runs $525 a month. There has been no rent increase in at least 10 years because the Legislature intervened the last time the agency attempted to raise the rent. Hobson said the tenants’ average salary runs about $50,000 a year.
If all the tenants pay their rent – and Denise Mills said that wasn’t always the case – the property brings in $211,000 a year. She said that in fiscal year 2011, the Port Authority spent $126,000 on repairs. So far this fiscal year, the tab has run $74,000.
Port Authority officials outlined a repair plan to deal with the deteriorated condition of many of the units. So far, the agency has fixed the roofs to prevent leaks. Port Authority engineer Dale Gregory said the agency has finished an assessment of damage to the buildings and within two weeks will send out a request for proposals for a contractor to fix those problems.
“We hope to finish all the work in nine to 10 months,” Gregory said.
Gregory said the V.I. Waste Management Authority has addressed sewer issues and the Public Works Department has worked on drainage issues that caused ground flooding.
Bournefield tenants did not testify at the meeting because they had done so at a previous meeting. The Port Authority was unable to attend that meeting.
In addition to White, Sens. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Neville James, Terrence “Positive” Nelson, Usie R. Richards and Alvin Williams answered present when their names were called. Sen. Louis P. Hill was absent.