This year has seen some great things so far – reopening of the British Virgin Islands to tourists, in person galas, Island Prom, and now we have something happening on island that might be a great solution to one of our biggest problems: long term housing.
If you’ve ever lived on St. John – or even visited for some time, then you know how difficult it is to find long term housing on island. IrmaMaria, unregulated short term rentals, last year’s Grunwald fire – you name it, St. John has endured it in the last six years. With St. John being most people’s idea of paradise and a popular vacation spot, many homes have been turned into short term rentals. It’s a win for the homeowner and a win for the tourists, but not so much for the residents that work and live here.
Ari Goldschneider first visited St. John when he and his wife came here on their honeymoon in 2011. Like all of us, he fell in love with this slice of paradise and has continued to visit the island with his family since.
Over the last few years, he became interested in shipping container construction and given the cost to build with traditional masonry construction on St. John, he thought that building with containers was an attractive alternative, especially given their ability to withstand the weather here, including strong winds. Properly secured and maintained containers can withstand the elements we face on island.
To have the greatest impact within the community he hatched the idea to offer a co-housing space. Each private room would have its own bedroom, bathroom, refrigerator, and cook top, with a communal living area that will consist of a shared kitchen, living room and deck (see pictures below).
Seeking land that was large enough to support additional buildings should this project go well, he purchased a 1.1 acre parcel across the street from the Gifft Hill School soccer fields.
“After 13 months of design and engineering, discussions with DPNR’s building and zoning departments, back and forth with DPW, and review/approval by the fire marshals”, Ari made a post on Facebook on January 12th announcing his plans to “build 12 private fully furnished bedrooms (from shipping containers) each with a private bathroom and kitchenette, shared common areas with a gourmet kitchen, dining and living room, in building laundry, and a shared deck of Cruz Bay and Pillsbury Sound.”
The design of this structure will be open to the elements outdoor (but covered) and are conducive to St. John’s good weather and building with containers is attractive as they are – durable, quick to build with, and more cost efficient than traditional masonry construction.
This is great for the residents of St. John because it means that this is happening soon, and with the timeline to finish by January 2024. The reason we aren’t seeing more long-term housing on island (despite the need) is because the economics don’t really work unless you think outside the box. Ari hopes to change that and offer housing that appeals to and is affordable for a wide variety of people, including those in the services industry.
I reached out to Ari last week and had a ton of questions about the project. Are the common areas screened in? Afternoon sun? Target tenant demographic? He was patient and walked me through his vision of what’s to come. One of the biggest concerns is that the housing complex faces west, which means those western facing rooms and screened in common areas are getting roasted with afternoon sun.
To alleviate this, there’s going to be interior sun shades for the common/living room to keep the space cooler and A/C in the private rooms, which are smaller and well insulated. Additionally, the building is perched on the top of a hill granting it access to a wonderful breeze.
Another concern is the target demographic here. Is this for service industry workers? Multi generational locals? Do long term residents have priority? Ari has assured me that he wants the right mix of people to live there, ideally those who want to build relationships with others they are living with and have a desire to live somewhat communally. Definitely those who already live on island will be given preference over those moving down. He is also considering offering a handful of units below market price if the need arises for certain individuals.
The idea is that this will be housing for full time workers on St. John who need a place to sleep/cook meals. Remote workers are not the target here. The project is geared toward housing people who are filling critical and needed jobs on island that service tourists and residents.
There’s not a set price of rent yet, however it should not be too far off from market price. Leases will be month to month or 3 months, depending. If interested to see if you’d be a good fit, there’s a pre application survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FYNWZNM
For making this happen, a huge thank you to Leía LaPlace in the DPNR’s zoning department and to Shikima Jones-Sprauve. as St. John Administrator. This couldn’t have happened without your help!
On February 7th, there will be a groundbreaking ceremony at the Gift Hill co housing project site (across the street from the soccer field) and a get together at Shambles afterwards from 11 to noon, drinks and lighter fare included.