April 5, 2006 – Few low-income housing units will be available for Bournefield residents before they have to move out in August, according to V.I. Port Authority representatives speaking at a meeting Wednesday evening. Despite this statement, however, Port Authority Executive Director Darlan Brin said VIPA is sticking to the eviction date.
Brin said he called the meeting to inform the VIPA tenants about possible alternative housing options, and assembled representatives from the V.I. Housing Authority, Housing Finance Authority, and Housing, Parks and Recreation, who said residents would either have to wait for additional units to be built or be placed on waiting lists for up to two years.
Some representatives further described a long application process, in which residents would have to submit a preliminary application, financially qualify for housing, then reapply for a unit once new communities are developed or when existing units become vacant.
Flavia Blyden, Housing Authority leasing supervisor, said more than 100 units were currently available for residents, but would have to undergo various repairs before they become fully habitable.
Corine Emmanuel, program assistant for the Section 8 program under the V.I. Housing Authority, said that some residents could receive rent assistance if they found houses on the private market, and would only have to be on a waiting list for approximately six months.
However, Emmanuel said that if a resident could not locate an apartment 120 days after federal assistance was approved, then the resident would have to reapply to the program.
Both presentations raised the ire of Bournefield residents, who said they came to the meeting to see if VIPA could extend the eviction date and provide them with a guaranteed housing package.
Tenants have said they were asked to vacate the Bournefield area – in which some of them have lived for more than 40 years – in a letter sent by the Authority on March 6. However, the letter did not specify by what date the residents would have to move out or whether the government would provide them with alternative housing.
According to the letter, the site will be the location of the new Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, while the land on which Cancryn currently sits will be given to VIPA for commercial use.
During the meeting, Bournefield residents also said they did not believe that VIPA would be using the site for a school, and asked Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, and Louis P. Hill – who were also in attendance – whether the Legislature has been asked by the central government to approve funding for the project.
"We're not going to try and stop you," Keith Flemming, a longtime Bournefield resident, said to Brin. "All that we're asking is that you give some more time – we only have four months to get our affairs in order and move out. We need some more time, and then you can go in and build your warehouses and stop talking to us about this school."
Flemming's statement further agitated the more than 30 other residents at the meeting, causing the group to angrily shout out various complaints before senators had a chance to respond to the question.
As Brin rapped on a desk to call the meeting to order, however, Sen. Celestino A. White added more fuel to the fire by organizing a walk out before Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira Hobson could give his presentation.
Along with Davis, White spoke to residents in the parking lot of VIPA's administrative building near the Cyril E. King Airport terminal, and told them that the government had "no authority" to force them out of their homes.
White said he would be organizing a hearing with Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville, chairman of the Senate's Committee on Housing, Sports and Veteran's Affairs, so Bournefield residents could formally testify before the Legislature.
"I think it's best to do that," White said to the circle of tenants around him. "Because there's no way that the government wants to have formal documents describing what they're doing to the people."
Until a hearing is scheduled, White advised residents to "hold down the fort, because there's no way that the government is making you all homeless."
After the meeting Hill said that the Legislature – which would be responsible for approving the funding for building the school – has not yet seen any specifics on the project. "We don't even know if Bournefield is the site that's been chosen," he added. "And I think that VIPA has acted a bit prematurely by doing this. They need to slow down and look at some real solutions."
While Hill said that he thinks VIPA is "solely acting on" statements made by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in his State of the Territory Address, Brin said he has already had meetings at Government House to discuss the project, and has received confirmation from executive officials that Bournefield is the preferred site for the new school.
Brin said that more meetings would be held with the residents to discuss the issue prior to the eviction date. "I don't know yet what the next step is," he added after the meeting. "But I'll come up with something – we're going to try and give the residents as much assistance as we can."
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