Frustrations Erupt at Townhall Over VIHA Homeownership Hurdles



At a townhall coordinated by the Senate Committee on Housing, Transportation, and Telecommunications, Virgin Islands locals aired their grievances over persistent hurdles in their transition from public housing to homeownership.

The gathering was meant to address the V.I. Housing Authority’s (VIHA) anticipated 2024 plan. Many attendees spotlighted the systemic barriers that have made homeownership an elusive goal.

Senator Marvin Blyden, Chair of the Committee, expressed the importance of the event. “While this might seem like an unusual move, our purpose is to aid the Housing Authority and the public in crafting a plan tailored to our community’s needs,” he explained.

Residents of the Williams Delight community were especially vocal about their difficulties in this transition. Ms. Maynard from the Resident Council sought clarity for those who had been on home purchase waitlists for years. She feared that many, now classified as “over-income”, might be jeopardized by new federal regulations.

VIHA’s COO, Lydia Pelle, addressed this by stating that a mere 45 individuals fall into the “over-income” category, with most not residing in Williams Delight. She mentioned that the new policy would see such families pay higher rents from 2024. Simultaneously, Jimmy Farmer, Director of Asset Management, commented on the substantial incomes of some of these households.

Another Williams Delight resident, Simone James, expressed her challenges in accessing assistance programs due to poor credit. Despite her low salary and family responsibilities, she’s been consistent with her rent. She pleaded, “Why should credit and bank bureaucracy hold me back?”

Ashel Belardo, also from Williams Delight, shared her lengthy struggle since 2013 with the homeownership process, emphasizing the bureaucracy and time constraints that halted her progress.

From the private housing sector of Williams Delight, Troy Mason ardently defended public housing residents. He was skeptical of VIHA’s intent, noting the minimal turnover of homes in the past decade. He urged for a direct property sale to these long-time tenants.

Raven Phillips of St. John drew attention to the potential wage increment as a solution for public housing inhabitants. Ms. Pelle acknowledged the wage concern but indicated that the VIHA’s focus was on enhancing the skill set of its community for better job opportunities.

Senator Marise James brought up the query of purchase price concessions for long-time inhabitants. Ms. Pelle confirmed that direct loans were under consideration for those who might not qualify for other aids.

Another participant pointed to the existing Virgin Islands Rent to Own Public Housing Conversion Program. This provides a structured approach for public housing tenants to achieve homeownership, and he believes this might be the answer. Senator Blyden pledged to delve into this existing legislation.

Addressing other concerns, Ms. Pelle guaranteed that displaced residents from Estate Tutu and Donoe High-Rise would get priority when new constructions are finalized. She acknowledged the scarcity of affordable public housing in St. John and noted that housing construction for the island isn’t on next year’s agenda, which drew criticism. In response, Senator Blyden committed to probing the VIHA on this matter.

Mr. Krigger informed attendees of an impending expansion in the Housing Choice Voucher Program across the territory, which aims to broaden voucher availability and housing stock.

To conclude, feedback from this discussion will be vital for VIHA’s plan finalization for the upcoming fiscal year. Senator Blyden encapsulated the broader issue, highlighting the Virgin Islands’ significant affordable housing crisis, which he believes jeopardizes community development and families’ livelihoods.

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