Homestead Housing in Bethlehem"Bethlehem, Saint Croix Island, Virgin Islands (vicinity). A Virgin Islands company housing project." Jack Delano, 1941. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
The homestead housing in Bethlehem, St. Croix was built by the Virgin Islands Company with the aid of PWA funding. A partnership program between the Government of the United States and the people of the Virgin Islands, the Virgin Islands Company sought to expand the homesteading and housing programs alongside industrial development on the islands. In Bethlehem, in addition to running the homesteading and housing programs, the Virgin Islands Company took on the reconstruction of the Bethlehem sugar mill, the island’s largest sugar mill.
The 1934 Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands provides details about a homestead housing program funded with the aid of a $45,000 grant from the Housing Commission and a $242,000 loan from Subsistence Homesteads Corporation, that sought to improve housing conditions on the Virgin Islands. “A housing survey in October 1933 in St. Croix, where the need is greatest, showed 2,623 one-room houses, with from 1 to 12 persons in each house. Perhaps half of them are relics of old slavery days, when one room was given over to a family. There is no privacy. There is no back door (indeed only one door), so that washing, cooking, and living is within the few feet at the front of the house. A start in the program to correct housing conditions has been made in connection with the homestead plan. With a grant of $45,000 from the Housing Commission, more than 50 houses are being provided for farmers who have proven themselves to be reliable and good workers (40 in St. Croix and 10 in St. Thomas). These are 3-room houses with a gallery and 1,200-gallon cistern, and are built of concrete blocks with galvanized iron roofs. They are to be paid for in 19 years on a rental purchase plan. This plan has been eagerly welcomed by the islanders. On the success achieved from the initial allotment, the Subsistence Homesteads Corporation has authorized a loan of $242,000 with which to carry forward both homesteading and housing operations in the Virgin Islands.”
The same 1934 Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands describes the role of the Virgin Islands Company in the economic rehabilitation of the Virgin Islands: “On April 9, 1934, the Colonial Council of St. Thomas and St. John adopted an ordinance creating a body corporate to be known as the ” Virgin Islands Co.” to aid in effecting the economic rehabilitation of the Virgin Islands. Hon. Harold L. Ickes, Hon. Oscar L. Chapman, and Hon. Paul M. Pearson, were the incorporators. The general plan is that certain sugar factories, cane lands, and rum distilleries in St. Croix; a rum distillery, a hotel, and an office building in St. Thomas; and bay tree lands in St. John, are to be purchased from the appropriation of $1,000,000 made by the Public Work Administration, and these properties leased to the Virgin Islands Co. for operation for the industrial development of the islands, and the general welfare, economic as well as social, of their inhabitants. The Virgin Islands Co. is a partnership program by which the Government of the United States and the people of the Virgin Islands cooperate in a long-range social, economic, and industrial program, the profits being available in the islands for educational and social purposes. It will include a development of the winter vegetable crop during the off season for the United States, the improvement of handcraft industries, the development of tourist trade, the improvement of the educational system to provide for adults and children of preschool age, a system of old age and unemployment compensation somewhat along the lines of those discussed by President Roosevelt, and extension of the homesteading and housing programs already initiated.”
U.S. Department of the Interior, Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1934, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934, p. 16, 20. U.S. Department of the Interior, Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1937, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1937, p. 8-9. The Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority: (http://www.vihfa.gov/services/rentals/subsidized-housing), accessed on June 4, 2017.
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