Many middle-class Virgin Islands residents have given up on building a home in the territory thanks to high construction costs, but Maurice Wheatley hopes to change those sentiments.
Wheatley, who founded the Caribbean Affordable Housing Company in 2006, showed off his company’s first completed project, the home of Tom and Livy Hitchcock in Fish Bay, at an open house Saturday, August 29.
More than 100 residents came out to see Wheatley’s new approach to building homes in the Virgin Islands. Most homes in the territory are built using wooden formwork. Concrete is poured in the formwork, which is then stripped away and discarded.
A large part of the cost of building in the Virgin Islands is labor, Wheatley explained.
“I came to the conclusion that most of the expense of building a home is labor,” he said. “I set out trying to see how to reduce labor costs.”
Wheatley came up with the idea to use aluminum formwork, which can be reused for the construction of hundreds of homes. He ordered formwork for three different floor plans, with homes ranging from 1,040 to 2,100 square feet. Because the forms are already built, CAHC’s homes require much less labor, reducing construction costs.
“The aluminum forms allow us to assemble the outline of the home in a couple of weeks,” Wheatley said. “We put the forms together like Legos.”
CAHC also cuts costs by using preformed steel grids to strengthen the concrete, rather than the conventional method of relying on construction workers to tie the rebar together themselves.
Wheatley, a banker by trade, began investigating ways to cut construction costs when he was faced with the possibility of building a home for himself. He had been in the banking industry for more than 22 years when, due to family circumstances, he realized he might have to sell his house.
“I thought about what I would do to replace my home, and I realized building costs were so high,” Wheatley said. “I did some research to figure out why it was so expensive.”
After talking to friends in the construction industry and attending trade shows, Wheatley devised his new approach to building in the Virgin Islands. Now, three years after starting his company, CAHC has completed its first house and is scheduled to break ground on its second home in September on St. Thomas.
“Our target is middle income people who, in most cases, have given up hope of ever owning a home despite the fact that they own land,” Wheatley said. “I don’t consider myself in competition with conventional contractors because our typical client can’t afford their methods.”
Although CAHC’s method of construction helps cut costs, it doesn’t skimp on safety. The company’s homes are hurricane resistant, Wheatley explained.
“The walls and roof are solid poured concrete,” he said. “The roof is tied together with the structure, and we provide hurricane panels for all the windows and sliding glass doors. There is no way, other than coming through the front door, that destructive winds can enter the house.”
While the Hitchcocks’ home took approximately one year to complete, according to Wheatley, he anticipates being able to construct future houses in just months.
“A year is too long,” he said. “We can do it in four to five months.”
The Hitchcocks took a bit of a risk agreeing to be CAHC’s first clients, and they’re glad they did, explained Livy Hitchcock.
“I could tell it was going to be great,” she said. “Maurice is the most honest guy and he treats you well. He’s been involved in every part of the construction.”
For more information on CAHC, visit www.caribaffordablehousing.com.