After months of inaction, contractors are on site at Bellevue Village on St. John to complete damage assessment and begin repairs at the 72-unit housing development on Gifft Hill.
Three units lost portions of their roofs as the result of Hurricane Irma and many other units still have damaged windows, walls, ceilings and porches. Leaks have led to problems with mold, according to several tenants.
The months of inaction by off-island managers McCormack Baron Management Inc, and owner and chief investor AIG, led to the formation of a tenants’ association in May.
The delay in repairs also prompted Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker to warn AIG president Thomas Musante about possible violations of local consumer protection laws.
“AIG must, within 14 days of today, submit to me an acceptable rehabilitation plan, with a firm schedule for repairs,” Walker wrote in a letter dated June 22. “AIG is one of the largest financial services and insurance companies in the world and so you have the resources to address the intolerable conditions of Bellevue’s residents and meet your obligations to provide safe and fit housing.”
“I’m happy the contractors are here,” said Nancy Clendenin, site manager for Bellevue Village and Calabash Boom Apartments, another housing community on the East End of St. John. The Calabash Boom Apartments, comprising 48 units in six buildings, suffered minimal damage from Hurricane Irma, according to Clendenin.
At a Bellevue Village tenants’ meeting held June 26, Clendenin told tenants that contractors would visit each of the two-unit townhouses to inspect the roofs.
“More roofs are starting to leak,” she said.
Clendenin urged tenants to complete the forms detailing necessary repairs, many of them predating the storms last September, including dilapidated appliances, missing cabinets, and broken tiles. Tenants have also complained of infestations of termites and cockroaches.
The intervention by V.I. public officials, including Sen. Marvin Blyden and Sen. Brian Smith, has led AIG to cancel all late fees for rent payments and institute a rent abatement program that extends to 2019.
Tenants brought the issues regarding Bellevue to the public’s attention as a secondary topic at a town hall meeting on Caneel Bay Resort called by Smith in April. Blyden has since taken up the cause.
“It’s true, you won’t have to pay rent until January,” said Clendenin, who said she contacted McCormack Baron for confirmation.
Although the rent abatement program was welcomed news, tenants were eager to see the proof of the offer in writing. A missed rent payment could result in disqualification from a rent-to-own program tenants say they were promised when they moved into their units 13 years ago.
Tenants were alarmed when McCormack Baron, which took over management, and AIG, which assumed ownership of the property from Reliance Housing Foundation in 2015, recently claimed to have no knowledge of a Homeownership Incentive Program outlined in their original leases. Under that program, 10 percent of each tenant’s rents was credited towards a down payment, residents say.
An article in the Tradewinds Newspaper dated June 4, 2007, corroborated the tenants’ claim. The article stated,
“Constructed in 2005 by Florida-based Reliance Housing Foundation – the same company which is planning to build an affordable housing community in Calabash Boom – in conjunction with the V.I. Housing Finance Authority, (VIHFA) Bellevue was touted as an answer to the homeownership crisis on St. John.”
Clendenin said she has contacted AIG about the homeownership issue but has not received a response.
However, she did say tenants should not be concerned about renewing their leases at this point.
“The corporate office said they were not going to deal with that now,” she said.
A representative from Blyden’s office, Eduardo Carmona, attended Tuesday’s meeting and wanted assurance that those tenants who were forced to move out while repairs were underway would be placed in vacant units on the property.
Bellevue Village presently has seven unoccupied units that were damaged by the hurricanes. Two four-man crews will rehabilitate these units and occupy them while they make repairs. Clendenin said she already had five applicants for those units.
Shared content for St. John Tradewinds and Virgin Islands Source.