VIHA relocates to Aureo Diaz after 'suspicious' fire destroyed Central Office


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ST. CROIX - The V.I. Housing Authority is setting up temporary offices in the Aureo Diaz Heights community center after a fire early Thursday damaged its Central Office on St. Croix.

Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham said that the intake center - where people can apply for public housing and for the Housing Choice Voucher program - will be located temporarily at the community center.

"We are opening the temporary office on Monday. We'll be getting set up to process individuals," Graham said on Friday.

Aureo Diaz Heights housing community is directly across the street from the Central Office in Estate Upper Bethlehem.

The blaze was confined to one room, but there is smoke damage throughout the Central Office building, Graham said. He said he could not estimate at this point how much it may cost to fix the damage.

The V.I. Fire Service and V.I. Police Department continue to investigate the blaze, which St. Croix Deputy Fire Chief Corey Kent described on Thursday as "highly suspicious."

The fire first was reported to 911 at 5:10 a.m. Thursday and occurred in the Leasing Department within the Central Office building.

Kent said Thursday that firefighters at the scene followed the smoke to the room where it was thickest and found a number of file cabinets on fire with the documents inside ablaze. They also found a broken lock on one of the building's doors.

Police and a Fire Service arson investigator collected evidence at the scene.

Leasing applications for public housing were among the items that were burned - and concerns had been raised about the possibility the authority's waiting list for public housing had been affected, but Graham said Friday that the authority has a backup.

About 800 St. Croix families are on the public housing waiting list.

Graham said the Housing Authority has an electronic file of the waiting list, including contact information and locations for individuals on the list.

"Every applicant will retain their original position on the waiting list," he said.

The only things pertaining to the public housing waiting list that were lost were hard copies of applications and supporting documentation, according to Graham. Staff have not yet finished assessing what files may be salvageable, he said.

Housing Authority staff will mail an application to those on the waiting list if their documentation was lost, and they can fill out the application and bring it back in with the supporting documentation, Graham said.

"We are going to start that process next week," he said.

The fire did not affect documentation for applicants to the Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly known as Section 8.

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

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