Workmen were carting away the decorative plants installed for the official groundbreaking for the 72-unit Calabash Boom affordable housing development as soon as the gathered dignitaries and St. Johnians went to the buffet in the community center.
After more than a year of delay due to legal challenges of the V.I. Housing Finance Authority-backed development on the shore of Coral Bay, the trappings for the formal groundbreaking were in the way of a fast-moving construction juggernaut that was expected to complete the project in 18 months.
Public officials, other dignitaries and their entourages almost outnumbered the several dozen St. Johnians in attendance, some from neighborhood families who could be future tenants of the new apartments and town homes.
Nevertheless, the public good of affordable housing development was the main topic for speakers.
“St. John is an island that is extremely expensive and hard to build on,” said VIHFA Executive Director Clifford F. Graham. “St. John has always had a lack of affordable housing.”
Enticing St. Johnians Back Home
Graham called the affordable housing an “effort to retain the workforce, to retain St. Johnians and entice those (who have left) to come back home.”
“As he spoke, his commitment to this project was clear,” said V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna C hristensen of Graham’s work to “make it possible for average citizens to rent or purchase… to make homes for families.”
“So many people can look forward to having a safe, clean place to raise a family,” Del. Christensen said in praise of the Calabash Boom housing.
Sen. Celestino A. White made note of the rapidly progressing work on 48 units of affordable rental apartments which towered above the groundbreaking site for the 24 affordable duplex town homes which will be for sale to qualified buyers.
A vocal and longtime supporter of affordable housing in the territory, Sen. White was critical of opponents of the Calabash Boom development who delayed the start of the project for more than a year with “frivolous obstructions.”
“We are here to be friends of homeowners,” Sen. White told the assemblage. “Absolutely no one will get in the way.”
Sen. Celestino White Chides Opponents
“The court said ‘Ah yo don’t come back,’” White said of lawsuits filed by opponents to the project — much to the delight of the supportive St. Johnian audience — as he praised Reliance Housing Foundation Inc.’s Robert Jackson and John Wessel of contractor GEC,LLC.
“I encourage St. Johnians to be sure to file,” Sen. White said to those potential apartment tenants and townhome owners in the audience. “You can’t just say, ‘I’m from St. John so one is mine.’”
“I want you living in your island,” Sen. White said. “I make no apologies to anyone for my strong efforts on home ownership.”
“Let’s find more land on St. John,” Sen. White said to the other government leaders on the dais. “Let’s find more land on St. Thomas and St. Croix.”
“I want to see Water Island with units, so all the people of the Virgin Islands will be able to live there,” added Sen. White.
Gov. DeJongh’s Commitment to Housing
Gov. John P. deJongh, who also alluded to opposition to the project “based on selfishness” and “based on being restrictive,” reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to building affordable housing.
“It truly is about building a community,” Gov. deJongh said. “It’s not just about tourism; it’s about being able to afford to have families stay here.”
“It is an island that has limited possibilities of home ownership,” Gov. deJongh added. “It also shows people want the ability of home ownership.”
“It shows that in the long run, if it’s right, it will be able to be done,” Gov. deJongh continued. “This project is going to cause development out here that we haven’t seen.”