ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery, Infrastructure, and Planning chaired by Senator Milton E. Potter convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Lawmakers were updated on disaster recovery projects, funding, and programs. Invited testifiers are the officials from the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority and the Office of Disaster Recovery.
Senator Potter stated: I am optimistic that we are going to see this disaster recovery process through. We must take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild the Virgin Islands for the benefit of generations to come.
Presently, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program is steadily progressing. Due to the damages sustained during Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Building FaÃƒÂ§ade and Streetscape Enhancement Program have approximately $7.6 million in forgivable loans for qualifying commercial neighborhoods and business districts. Additionally, a total of $5.1 million in grants are available for small businesses and microenterprises under the Small Business Entrepreneurship Grant and Technical Assistance Program, according to Dayna Clendinen, Interim Executive Director and Chief Disaster Recovery Officer of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority. Clendinen noted that the VIHFA priority infrastructure projects include the VI Water and Power Authority Randolph Harley Power Planmake Generation (St. Thomas), the Stabilization of Water Distribution Tanks (Donoe Tank and Tanks 3 and 4), the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority Convenience Centers, and the Anguilla Landfill Closure and Expansion.
In terms of emergency housing, Clendenin stated that on St. Thomas there were a total of eleven emergency housing units. To mitigate homelessness in the Territory, ODR is assessing and reviewing the emergency housing stock in the St. Thomas-St. John District and the St. Croix District. Collectively, senators noted that the homeless crisis in the Virgin Islands is a priority, especially since many people were displaced during the hurricanes or are homeless for varying reasons. Senator Alma Francis Heyliger stated that homelessness was a major problem prior to the storms. Many people were on the public and affordable housing waiting lists, she concluded. Regarding public and affordable housing, Clendenin indicated that in the construction at Estate Tutu High Rise, there are 14 buildings with 84 units. Furthermore, there are 248-unit rehab projects for affordable housing at Walter I. Hodge on St. Croix.
Adrienne Williams-Octalien, Director of the Office of Disaster Recovery, mentioned that the goal of ODR throughout the disaster recovery process is to obtain funding, allocate funding, and ensure accurate and appropriate expenditures. The anticipated $10 billion in funding, not yet finalized, is divided among FEMAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Public Assistance (PA) and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant ProgramÃ¢â‚¬â€Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR), and the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Emergency Relief Program (FHWA-ER). Senator Milton inquired if any COVID pandemic funds had been utilized for a match. In response, Williams-Octalien indicated that the Covid funds were used, and ARPA funding has been identified for covid. However, none of the funding was used to do damage sustained by the Hurricanes.
Senators attending the meeting: Milton E. Potter, Diane T. Capehart, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Franklin D. Johnson, Carla J. Joseph, Javan E. James, Marvin A. Blyden, Alma Francis Heyliger, Marise C. James, Kenneth L. Gittens, Di ###