Sept. 14, 2003 — St. Croix is getting three new homes the first week in December: a two-bedroom, a three-bedroom and a four-bedroom. And in time, there will be several hundred more like them on the island, and a manufacturing plant to produce them.
That is the long-term vision of Sen. Emmett Hansen II and Genesis Homes. It is a vision backed up by federal housing and finance officials and Renaissance Park.
The model homes will be on display at a Housing and Urban Revitalization Fair the first week in December at the Renaissance Park, on the grounds of the old St. Croix Alumina property on the island's south shore.
And — the homes are affordable. "Running from $35 to $40 per square foot, the highest price would be$48,000 for a 1,200 square-foot home," Hansen said, "and they include appliances." He said the market is geared toward working people — nurses, teachers, fire fighters and policemen — "People that can't afford a $100,000 home."
The homes will use potable water, he said, "saving about $30,000 on building a cistern." His Infrastructure Act, recently signed into law, includes a percentage of property taxes for potable water-line installation.
"Because there is no heating or cooling, the price comes down," he said. "Additionally, we are looking at solar water heaters for each home. That's not only affordable, it's energy efficient."
Hansen has been working with Andy Scholz, Genesis regional market director. "Genesis homes are everywhere," Hansen said. "They have 41 plants across the U.S. These aren't prefab homes like our people go to Florida to purchase. They are built to withstand 140 miles-per-hour winds."
"We adopted the Florida building code specifications." (See the Genesis Homes Web site.)
"We want to make them as open and airy as possible, with open-floor designs, larger windows and more living space, rather than larger bedrooms," Hansen said. "The homes come with appliances, and in a planned development, there will be a community generator."
Hansen said he got the idea for the model homes from Cassan Pancham, president of FirstBank Virgin Islands. "He suggested I look at premanufactured homes. We have the brick and mortar here, and our people move up to Florida and buy homes with no problem."
Hansen spent last week in Washington, D.C., meeting with representatives from Freddie Mac, an agency tasked by the U.S. Congress with the purpose of "Creating a nation of homeowners"; U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Genesis Homes; and Renaissance. He has been working for eight months to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
"Had it not been for the budget and HUD issues with the V.I. Housing Authority, I could have had the pieces fitted together four months ago," he said.
Actually, he's put in more time than the eight months he has spent on it this year. "When I found I was going to chair the Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee, I determined to explore federal programs," Hansen said. "Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Authority haven't been active in the V.I. in decades. For whatever reason, we have not been active in the mortgage market; it's run by the banks when there are federal programs. We are open for all these federal programs, but we haven't availed ourselves of them."
Stacey Walker, Freddie Mac southeast regional development lending manager, will be on hand at the December fair to explain the financing to local bankers, real estate professionals and home applicants. Along with Walker will be Nelson Bregon, HUD general deputy secretary in the office of commercial planning and development and a Fannie Mae officer, and Genesis' Scholz.
All banks will be taking loan applications, Hansen explained. He will work in the next few months with the labor unions so they can address their memberships. "We want the applicants to be prequalified so they know beforehand what they can expect," he said.
The V.I. Housing Authority announced last week that as of Monday it will put a freeze for up to one year on new applications in the St. Thomas-St. John district, as it has too long a waiting list. Hansen said he has yet to speak with VIHA officials on St. Croix to determine how many applications are pending now.
Hansen said the home ownership program will be financed by local funds as well as federal. "Out of the $235 million in bond proceeds, we have $5 million toward home ownership costs, for the VIHA, and another $6 million for urban revitalization. During the bond issuance, a lot of money was put aside for V. I. middle-class workers. They don't make enough to flat-out a buy a home, but makes too much for assistance programs like the Section 8 programs."
Hansen said land to build the homes on is "still on the drawing board."
"The VIHA has been requesting an inventory of government land that we have to go ahead and get turned over to the Authority."
Hansen said Ira Hobson, Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioner, had "already indicated he has land. He has to get a complete inventory from Property and Procurement. He said there is a parcel by Cramer's Park already in the inventory."
As for the Genesis plant, "the next step is a feasibility study," Hansen said. He hopes the plant will be in operation mid-2004. "This is the closest we have come to light manufacturing in decades, since the watch factories left. These are big-ticket items, not watches. Andy [Scholz] is talking about hiring 100 employees, skilled labor and heavy equipment operators.
The more than 1,200-acre Renaissance Park is the ideal for shipping homes down-island, Hansen said, with its deep-water channel.
The park is owned by the Renaissance Group, a partnership of Boston-based Brownfields Recovery Corp., EnergyAnswers Corp. of Puerto Rico, and Myron Allick, a Crucian who is the group's vice president for project development. The partnership purchased the property from Alcoa World Aluminum and Chemical Corp. in June of 2002.
"We see commerce and cruise ships," Patrick Mahoney, president of EnergyAnswers, said. "We see the potential for new industries to relocate here," he said at the time of the signing. Mahoney participated over teleconference with Scholz and the federal officials in the Washington talks last week.
Hansen said he wants to get "one other player — the federal Import-Export Bank — to provide capital for financing the Genesis plant, but "it was premature to have contacted them at last week's meetings." He said they could be instrumental in providing the capital needed to export the houses to other Caribbean islands. "It's another piece of the puzzle."
"We don't want to make the V.I. the only market for these homes because it is a finite market," Hansen said. "We want to bring in new money and look for consumers for the homes in St. Martin, Anguilla, or even Puerto Rico," he said. "The real key to a brighter economy is to sell to other islands. After the feasibility study, we should have the factory under way in less than a year."
Key players in the project were not available for comment over the weekend.
And there is another housing project coming up: Hansen said Freddie Mac has agreed to urban revitalization in the Campo Rico area, and that is the first project under this program. He said he expects it to "take off before the first of the year.
"They [Freddie Mac] have agreed to provide local money and I've got $6 million from the bond issuance to provide seed money for demolition of existing structures. Then Genesis will come in and build townhouses."
Hansen stressed that his role is that of "oversight." He said he will be meeting with HUD officials this week to
"iron out the time frame and uses of money for the housing programs. I want to make sure the programs go to those persons who need it the most."

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