Habitat ‘Sets Record Straight’ On Victoria Row

May 3, 2016

Following WEDCo’s statement that they have “reluctantly” started on the demolition of Victoria Row, Habitat for Humanity chairperson Sheelagh Cooper said she thinks it is “important to set the record straight” about Habitat’s offer to renovate the units.

WEDCo said they ”met with different groups and offered to let Victoria Row go for free, on the condition that it was renovated according to codes” but it “was simply not financially viable.”

However, Ms Cooper said that in 2006, they met with WEDCO and offered to restore the Victoria Row units, using volunteers and contributions.

She said that one of Habitat’s requirements was that once the project was completed the existing tenants would be given priority and that WEDCo would not increase their rents, however this “requirement was not acceptable to WEDCo and in the end negotiations ceased and essentially they walked away from our offer.”

“I am sure that the statement that was issued was an honest mistake as this all took place 10 years ago and most likely there has been quite a shift in personnel at WEDCo since then. It is just regrettable that it has come to this,” added Ms Cooper.

Video of the demolition work underway yesterday

WEDCo’s Comments

WEDCo previously said, “The West End Development Corporation [WEDCo] has done everything they can to save the buildings; they have approached organisations like Habitat for Humanity, the National Trust and even the Naval Dockyards Society in the United Kingdom.

“No group has been able or willing to assist with any financial support and although in principle WEDCo agrees with the preservation groups, they simply do not have the funds available.

“Recently completed surveys indicate it would take approximately $11m to renovate Victoria Row which would mean that the interest alone on the renovation for each unit would be $2,500.00 per month which far exceeds any rental return they may be able to earn.

“It is not easy to say ‘let’s demolish a building’ and WEDCo are doing this reluctantly. WEDCo has spent millions of dollars recently on renovating and restoring properties throughout the Royal Naval Dockyard and the West End, but this particular project is simply, and regrettably, not financially viable.

“WEDCo has met with different groups and offered to let Victoria Row go for free, on the condition that it was renovated according to codes. It was simply not financially viable and had it been, WEDCo would have renovated it themselves.”

Slideshow of the demolition work underway yesterday

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Habitat for Humanity’s Comments

Habitat Bermuda chairperson Sheelagh Cooper said, “In a recent press release regarding the decision to demolish Victoria Row it is alleged by WEDCo that they approached Habitat for Humanity Bermuda for help in renovating the units and Habitat turned them down. I think it is important to set the record straight .

“First of all Habitat approached WEDCO, not the other way around. Indeed in 2006 we met with WEDCO and offered to renovate and restore to a decent standard the units in Victoria Row at our cost.

“We would use our volunteers and seek substantial contributions of materials from our many partners in the building supply sector enabling us to complete the work at a very reasonable cost.

“WEDCo spent almost a year discussing the feasibility of such an offer, and finally as we approached the stage of developing an MOU one of Habitat’s requirements was that once completed the existing tenants would be given priority and that WEDCo would not increase their rents.

“This is a standard clause within any project undertaken my Habitat where a rental property is involved. Our objective is to strengthen the available affordable housing market, and without this clause any landlord could benefit from our charitable work by raising the rent and thereby taking another affordable property off the market.

“This requirement was not acceptable to WEDCo and in the end negotiations ceased and essentially they walked away from our offer.

“In 2008 we again contacted WEDCo since the properties were continuing to deteriorate in the hope that they might be willing to revisit the offer and were told that they had a strategic plan in mind for the units, and that if the Habitat offer fit into that plan they would be in touch. That was the last correspondence on record from WEDCO.

“I am sure that the statement that was issued was an honest mistake as this all took place 10 years ago and most likely there has been quite a shift in personnel at WEDCo since then. It is just regrettable that it has come to this.

“Habitat Bermuda is an all volunteer organization that provides free home renovation services exclusively in Bermuda. A great deal of our materials are donated,our offices are free and our predominant costs are for professional services such as plumbing ,electrical or masonary work.

“In the past 3 years we have completed 60 projects that have improved the lives of more than 200 people [children, seniors and their families].

“Just since January of this year we have completed 7 projects and at the moment we have 3 more underway,” concluded Ms Cooper.

We asked WEDCo for comment, and will update if able.

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Comments (24)

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  1. Jolly says:

    It’s scandalous that these historic buildings are being demolished. Wedco see themselves as a developer not as the protector of a historic district (thus the amazingly ugly concrete prefabs they built next door). Dockyard is now our premier tourism gateway – and we should be protecting the “historic context and feel” of the area. Otherwise it’s just a parking lot for big ships.

    • archy says:

      I really think it is fair to say that dockyard has done an awful lot of work. they’ve spent millions on other buildings and the place keeps getting new businesses opening etc. need to put a bit of balance here as well

    • History is Fum says:

      Yeah, historically eyesores of garbage on the road.

      • IslandTeacher says:

        They were Victoriana slum accommodation. No real aesthetic appeal and of very little architectural merit. I’m still sad to see them go but it was for the best.

    • jt says:

      Old does not mean historic.

      • Rich says:

        Precisely. Some people automatically think that anything old is worthy of historic preservation or listed status.

        • Jolly says:

          Distinctive row housing – yes it’s historic and not often found in N America. And what replace it with crap concrete prefabs? Tourists can see that in NJ – don’t need to come here for it.

        • PhD. says:

          Correct. Let’s get this straight, these buildings are NOT historic buildings.

    • Skeptic says:

      Agree completely Jolly! What makes Bermuda different from many other cruise and visitor destinations is our heritage and charm. Wedco has struggled for decades to embrace the concept of preserving heritage and adaptive re-use of such structures. The mindset is to neglect the assets until they can declare them “beyond repair” and argue that it is not financially viable to redevelop the asset. Unfortunately the alternatives erected in place are not aesthetically viable and we are all the poorer for this lack of insight by WEDCo. This is not a partisan issue, it is a lack of competent stewardship of the public’s assets for over 50 years.

  2. aceboy says:

    This was all such a scam. They built brand new units. Change order here, change order there and voila *everyone* wins.

  3. They looked / where overdue…

  4. Smh says:

    Gain the world and lose your soul…. Greer will ruin this country

  5. Had Enough says:

    Wedco had no intention of developing those houses or allowing anyone else to and as for change in personnel, it’s the same man in charge that has been there for ages so I am sure he is very familiar with any proposal that was put forth even if it was tewn years ago. Just more issues from Wedco

    • serengeti says:

      “as for change in personnel, it’s the same man in charge that has been there for ages”
      Lister was in charge for 14 solid years. Charlton has been there for about 2-3 years.
      According to Habitat, there was no communication in either direction since 2008.

      • Albie says:

        There’s ” in charge” and then there is” policitally in charge/appointed”. One is very different from the other.

        It would be interesting to know who got all those various contracts over the last few decades. I bet you see a pattern

    • Flash says:

      Those buildings survived the last 150+ years but they did not survive the 20 some years that WEDCO has had them……. shame……

      Parsonage, Albert row and Malabar are next to get bulldozed I guess….. ugh..

      I call this “crimes against history” – apparently legal.

    • archy says:

      looking at the press release they put out about this last week, it seems they worked very hard to try and do something. Even the National Trust said it was not viable to restore them

      • Just a shame to see those houses come down.All about the money and who pockets can can filled..Whith all those gifted prisoners up there they could have worked out a programme of fixing up the houses and gaining some type of papers for when they come out..I having same problem with government about a cottage that needs major renovations and i am willing to foot bill but they say they rather let the house fall down rather than fix it up!!

    • archy says:

      if you read the press release last week wedco said they had worked with numerous groups with a view to saving these buildings. they had been working for years to make something happen but even some of those groups admitted it was not financially viable

  6. Bermie says:

    Glad to see the record set straight here. Agree with the other posters that having the same people in charge at WEDCo means the same M.O.

    When WEDCo held their public “consultations” back in 2012, they went out of their way to emphasise that they were not there to provide low cost housing. Enough said really.

    • archy says:

      more like – they could not be made into low cost housing as the costs incurred could not be got back via low rent

  7. bermyluv says:

    What is likely, is that the rents do not cover the cost of maintenance. So even if there was no cost to renovate, the maintenance cost would continue to make the housing unsustainable. Like WEDCO said, affordable housing is not part of their remit or financial plan.

  8. Hope says:

    I hadn’t heard of Habitat Bermuda until today, but great to hear that there is an organization out there working to help those who cannot help themselves. However what I would like to know is what they spend annually in their projects? It’s great getting volunteers and local businesses together, but I’m not sure how anyone could get together $11m of donated time/materials to renovate Victoria Row. How does this project compare to their others, in terms of size?

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