BILL TO STRENGTHEN CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS FORWARDED, VIHFA SHARES STATUS OF THE EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Published: Nov 11, 2021

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Telecommunications chaired by Senator Marvin Blyden, held a meeting at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received testimony on measures including a bill relating to the Virgin Islands Department of Public Works Division of Capital Improvements. Separately, officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) shared an update on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). 

“We have an ambitious agenda today. We will be hearing three bills that seek to have a positive impact on our roads and sidewalks, to facilitate the procurement of architectural & engineering for certain capital improvement projects for the Government of the Virgin Islands, and to create certain set-asides for first responders in the affordable housing program in the Territory,” Senator Blyden said.   

Committee members voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0069- An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code, Title 3, chapter 9, section 134a relating to the Department of Public Works, Division of Capital Improvements by adding subsection (c) to define capital improvement project;” and amending Title 31, chapter 1, relating to the functions of the Commissioner of Public Works by adding a new subsections (b) and (c) to direct the Commissioner of Public Works to maintain a master contract for providing governmental entities with architectural and engineering services for construction, expansion, renovation, major maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement projects that cost less than $500,000 over the life of the project. Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory is the sponsor of the bill. In support of the measure, the Department of Property and Procurement Commissioner Anthony Thomas stated that the proposed changes will eliminate the need to solicit services on a department-by-department basis every time there is a need for architectural/engineering services. Concurringly, the Department of Public Works Commissioner Derek Gabriel stated that a master services task order contract allows the provision of engineering, design, construction management, and inspection services for the projects under the newly implemented half-million-dollar threshold set for capital improvement projects. Gabriel recommended that approximately 17% of the estimated project cost be allocated for frontend engineering, design services, construction management, and inspections. 

Separately, policymakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0087- An Act providing for a Complete Streets Policy and creating a Complete Streets Task Force within the Department of Public Works to aid in the development and implementation of strategies to increase the usability of all streets for all modes of travel for citizens of all ages and abilities in the Virgin Islands. However, the following measure was held in committee at the call of the chair: Bill No. 34-0029- An Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 16, subchapter II, section 945(a)(1) relating to the Virgin Islands Affordable Housing Program to provide for a set-aside of affordable housing for first responders. 

Lastly, the Virgin Islands Department of Housing Finance Authority Executive Director Daryl Griffith shared the status of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. A total of $39 million was awarded to the Virgin Islands for ERAP in two rounds. The first deadline for the expenditure of the funds is September 30, 2022, and the second is September 3, 2025. Griffith mentioned that presently, VIHFA processed payments for 100 ERAP clients. A total of $789,702.69 of rental assistance payments were processed with $7,897.03 issued per client. However, Griffith stated some challenges with ERAP consist of staff shortages, incomplete applications, and ongoing updates to federal guidelines and procedures. 

Senators present at the hearing: Marvin Blyden, Steven D. Payne Sr., Dwayne M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Kurt A. Vialet, Samuel Carrion, Genevieve R. Whitaker, and Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

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