V.I. Housing Authority breaks ground on new senior living facility in Sugar Estate

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Housing Authority held a ground-breaking ceremony Wednesday at the site of the public senior living facility in Sugar Estate on St. Thomas.

The $31 million affordable housing project is designed for seniors age 62 and older who can live independently.

The project is scheduled to be finished by December 2015, according to V.I. Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham.

"We expect that this extraordinary design is going to be attractive to seniors," Graham told The Daily News on Wednesday. "The layout, functionality and maneuverability and overall concept is outstanding, and we think that the seniors will be pleased."

The 80-unit facility will have 76 one-bedroom units and four two-bedroom units. Graham said couples will be welcome to share a one-bedroom unit if they wish. It is located on the hill between the Foothills Professional Building and Fortress Storage.

The Housing Authority purchased the land in 2012 from Lockhart Realty for about $1.3 million.

The new facility will be affordable rental housing, built with low-income housing tax credits.

Graham said by September, the authority will announce the application process for prospective tenants.

"There will be a waiting list developed for that site," Graham said.

The facility will include a parking garage under the building, a community center, laundry facilities on each floor and outdoor gardens.

The community center will have a kitchenette, a communal living room for reading or visiting, a computer learning center and on-site offices for management and social service functions.

A single entrance and exit point will share the driveway to the Foothills Medical Building.

Each residential unit will have living, dining and kitchen areas, with energy-efficient appliances and storage space.

Activities and social services will be provided to meet the needs of the residents, emphasizing wellness and empowerment through independent living. The social services will include case management, medical screenings, nutritional counseling services, training programs, financial workshops and social and recreational activities, according to the Housing Authority.

The facility will have two buildings, with three floors of living space, plus the lower level parking garage.

"This development reflects the Board of Commissioners commitment to building modern state-of-the-art housing for seniors of the Virgin Islands," V.I. Housing Authority board chairman Luis Sylvester said Wednesday.

Its proximity to Schneider Hospital and many doctors' offices, labs and pharmacies makes it an ideal location, according to Graham.

Graham acknowledged that there is still a need for additional senior housing, specifically for those who can no longer live independently but are not quite ready for a nursing home or hospital.

"We're going to build other senior buildings and try and fill that gap," Graham said.

The project is a public-private partnership between the V.I. Housing Authority and the Michaels Development Company.

"We are very proud to be a partner on this beautiful new community and feel privileged to work with VIHA in bringing their vision for much-needed affordable housing to reality," Milton Pratt, senior vice president of The Michaels Development Company, said.

Financing for the development includes $26.6 million in equity raised by the sale of 9 percent federal low income tax credits, allocated by the V.I. Housing Finance Authority, along with V.I. Public Finance Authority funds, V.I. Housing Authority disposition proceeds and a New York Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program award.

The contractor for the project is Prestige Building Company.

Graham said Wednesday that the project is on track and he expects the contractor to meet the deadline.

"We expect that it's going to be finished on time," he said. "They have a deadline, they may even come in under deadline, but they certainly will meet it. I expect to have a ribbon-cutting next December."

- Contact Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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