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VIHA Head Honcho Says Public Housing Cisterns Haven’t Worked Since 2003, Water Costs $10M Per Year

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Virgin Islands Housing Authority said this morning that cisterns at its 33 public housing units in the territory have not been “functional” since 2003.

Robert Graham, the executive director of VIHA testifying before the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications, said that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that water quality testing in the U.S. Virgin Islands was not dependable and stopped using cisterns at public housing here as a cost-cutting measure.

In “hindsight,” Graham told committee chair Senator Marvin Blyden, potable water supplied to VIHA housing by the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority, costs $10 million per year, and may in fact cost more than using water from cisterns.

Graham said 100 percent of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority’s annual budget comes from federal funding through HUD. The Virgin Islands government does not contribute one penny to VIHA, he said.

The VIHA executive added that it was determined by HUD that it would be “cost prohibitive” to fix old cisterns at the territory’s public housing units with estimated costs of $7 million to $8 million to repair.

Graham said that public housing in the territory must be increased by 1,000 additional units in the next 10 years.

He said that there is a waiting list of at least 2,400 applicants to VIHA, with many of them “rent burdened.” which means that they are paying more than 50 percent of their income towards rent.

Some applicants to VIHA have been on a waiting list for available units for three years, according to committee member Senator Novelle Francis, Jr.

In testimony today, Senator Myron Jackson said there are 20,000 people in public housing on St. Croix and 13,000 people in public housing on St. Thomas.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 50 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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