New housing community opens on St. Croix


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ST. CROIX - Almost a year after a ground-breaking ceremony for Louis E. Brown Senior Villas, officials on Wednesday snipped the ceremonial ribbon for the grand opening.

Louis E. Brown Senior Villas, a project of the V.I. Housing Authority, is a new, 40-unit public housing apartment building for senior citizens in Paradise.

The three-story building, painted sunny yellow with white trim, features amenities that include a laundry room, several community rooms, and a fitness center. It also has a number of energy-efficient measures.

The building will have an elevator and boasts a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments with large windows, mini blinds, energy-efficient appliances, ceiling fans and walk-in closets.

Candida Castro is one of the senior citizens who will be moving in during the coming weeks.

Her daughter, Noemi Nieves, said that Castro had been on the waiting list for housing for a long, long time.

Nieves said her mother was "more than happy" with the look of the new apartments.

"Overwhelmed with joy. It's beautiful," Castro said in Spanish, with Nieves interpreting.

Construction work had already begun on the site when the V.I. Housing Authority held the groundbreaking ceremony for the $14.5 million facility a year ago.

The senior building is the second phase of the Louis E. Brown Villas redevelopment.

The Senior Villas are located just east of Louis E. Brown Villas Phase I, a 102-unit public housing apartment complex of one-, two- and three-bedroom units that opened in late 2011. That complex was the first new public housing development in the territory in more than 20 years.

The original Louis E. Brown Villas were severely damaged during hurricanes. Brown was a Crucian, born in 1917, who was a World War II veteran and held several positions in local government, including as commissioner of Agriculture and Labor and director of the Division of Public Health and Workmen's Compensation.

In 1962, Brown was appointed to serve on the Housing Authority's board for a two-year term. He died in 1972. Several members of his family attended the grand opening on Wednesday.

The ceremony featured short speeches by local and federal officials.

Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham spoke about the partnerships and teamwork that were necessary to get Louis E. Brown Senior Villas constructed.

"We are here today because the power of relationships propels the Housing Authority through a persistent process of participation," Graham said. "The Housing Authority believes that there is room for all who want to be involved in partnering for progress."

Kimberly Wize, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official who is recovery administrator for the V.I. Housing Authority and acts as its board, spoke of the work - and the teamwork - that went into the development.

"I just want to say to our seniors: 'Welcome home,' " Wize said. "Happy holidays, everybody."

Gov. John deJongh Jr. talked about the efforts of those involved in pushing the project forward, and praised them for their "passion and compassion for public housing and housing communities in the Virgin Islands."

Deborah Hernandez, the general deputy assistant secretary for public and indian housing at HUD, thanked everyone involved in the project and said public-private partnerships are ushering in a new era of affordable housing on St. Croix.

Graham said the Housing Authority had received the certificate of occupancy for Louis E. Brown Senior Villas on Wednesday.

Some finishing work, including installing the elevator, and working out the punch list items remains to be done, he said.

Some of the residents moving into the new building will be able to do so this month - Graham said he expects 15 to 20 apartments will be ready for occupancy in December - while others will move in January as work is completed, he said. Graham said he anticipates that all the apartments will be ready for move-in by the end of January.

Among the energy-efficiency measures at Louis E. Brown Senior Villas are solar outdoor lighting and a net-metering arrangement with a 70-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, said V.I. Energy Office Director Karl Knight.

The solarvoltaic panels will supply power to the building's common areas, and a portion of that solar power will be allotted to lower residents' utility bills, Knight said.

The building also features solar outdoor lighting, and the units have solar water heaters, he said.

Graham said the building meets Americans with Disabilities Act specifications. Regarding handicapped accessibility in the bathrooms of the units, he said that grab bars can be installed in any of the units upon request.

The building was designed by Corwil Architects of Coral Gables, Fla., and St. Croix-based GEC, LLC served as the general contractor on the project.

McCormack Baron Salazar joined the project as developer when it was already under way.

Louis E. Brown Senior Villas was financed through equity generated from Low-Income Housing Tax Credits with Replacement Housing Factor funds, Public Housing Development Grant funds and Capital Fund Grant funds from the V.I. Housing Authority, along with renewable energy tax credits, according to a prepared statement about the project.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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