Published: Oct 5, 2022

St. Thomas- Members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure, chaired by Senator Janelle K. Sarauw convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Officials from the Virgin Islands Finance Authority and the Office of Disaster Recovery shared an update on the disaster recovery projects and programs in the Virgin Islands.

Dayna Clendinen, Interim Executive Director and Chief Disaster Recovery Officer of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) provided an update on the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), CDBG-Covid-19 (CV), Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), Mitigation and Electrical Grid, Emergency Rental Assistance (ERAP), and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG-CV). The Virgin Islands was awarded a total of $1,887,330,884 from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery, Mitigation, and Electrical Grid award. Out of that, the Virgin Islands received $1,075,489,884. Clendinen added that CDBG-MIT will fund hazard mitigation activities within the Territory in the amount of $744,188,000 while the remaining $67,653,000 supports electrical grid improvements. The Office of the Inspector General is conducting two audits to ensure that VIHFA is compliant with the federal guidelines and performance measures for the VI Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). Clendinen mentioned that the Authority launched an initiative inclusive of the Employee Onboarding Process, the Citizen Complaint Process, a Citizen Advisory Committee, and the RESURGE project.

Clendinen mentioned that the EnVIsion program will cost $160 million, with $135 million going to homeowners and $25 million for renters. Furthermore, to offset the increased cost of construction, VIHFA submitted an amendment to the Disaster Recovery Action Plan to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval to enable the EnVIsion program to provide financial assistance to more applicants. Furthermore, Clendenin indicated that the EnVIsion Program is providing services to a total of thirty-nine homes, of which thirty-two are on St. Croix and seven are on St. Thomas, that are currently under construction. To increase the number of home construction projects, VIHFA awarded Persons Service Corp, a general contractor, to provide construction services to 172 homes. VIHFA aims to reduce multiple solicitations from contractors to one contractor per 100 homes. Overall, lawmakers were not impressed with the slow progress of home construction projects.

Senator Sarauw expressed concern for homes in the Territory that are still utilizing blue tarps, issued to residents with damaged roofs since 2017. To date, there are homes in the Virgin Islands that are covered with tarps that are in disarray. The governor must be held accountable, no matter the excuses around it. These homes are not being repaired. Sarauw added that the Territory is going through hurricane season and residents are using tarps, including her neighbor’s home, which is constantly flooding when it rains. Sarauw inquired about the plan to eliminate the use of tarps and increase home roof repairs. In response, Clendinen said that blue tarps are not under the purview of VIHFA. Similarly, Adrienne Williams-Octalien, Director, Office of Disaster Recovery, indicated that there is no existing program for tarps and the installation of tarps. Sarauw cautioned that although a task may not be in your purview, we all live in a community with residents who need assistance with roof repairs. “We cannot be tone deaf to the needs of the community,” Senator Sarauw said.

In terms of the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG-CV), a total of $2.2 million was allocated to the program. Clendinen noted that the purpose of ESG-CV is to respond to the COVID-19 crisis with a concentration on individuals who are homeless, and receiving homeless assistance, and to expand homeless assistance/homeless prevention activities to mitigate the impacts of COVID -19. A total of $702,000 was expended with that balance to be utilized by the September 30, 2023, deadline.

Senators who attended the meeting: Chairman Janelle K. Sarauw, Samuel Carrión, Marvin Blyden, Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Carla J. Joseph, Genevieve R. Whitaker.                                                                                       ###

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