Feb. 11, 2004 – Sen. Emmett Hansen II says he has taken steps to make the federal American Dream Downpayment Initiative for affordable low- and moderate-income housing a Virgin Islands reality. And he will be sponsoring housing fairs on St. Croix and St. Thomas in March to make the information available to the public.
Hansen, who chairs the Senate Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee, recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he met with Roy A. Bernardi, assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development. There, the St. Croix senator said, he was able to get the territory included in the Bush administration's American Dream initiative.
The program opens the door on home ownership to more low-income and minority families by helping to offset the up-front costs, providing families an average of $5,000 toward down payment or closing costs. The Virgin Islands has been granted $1.3 million for this purpose, Hansen said, with the program to be administered by the V.I. Housing Authority. (For more information about the initiative, see the federal HUD Web site.)
At a meeting of his committee Wednesday on St. Croix, Hansen said four additional housing plans will be ratified. He said the expanded program will include 16 housing units at Castle Burke, 15 at Estate Pearl and 80 at Estate Carlton on St. Croix; and 72 units in Estate Bellvue on St. John.
He cited U.S. Census figures in a Housing and Urban Development Department release indicating that while nearly 70 percent of Americans overall are homeowners, the figure for African-American and Hispanic families is less than 50 percent. Hansen said he hopes to raise the rate for the Virgin Islands by making affordable housing programs available.
He said there are four criteria for the creation of more affordable home-owning opportunities:
– Educating more people about the home-buying process.
– Increasing the supply of affordable homes.
– Providing more assistance with down payment and closing costs.
– Offering more home financing options for low- and moderate-income Virgin Islanders.
Hansen had tried to set up a Housing and Urban Revitalization Fair in December at Renaissance Park on St. Croix. It had to be postponed, he said, because of travel restrictions for federal employee, since the fiscal year 2003 federal budget had not yet been approved.
The fairs will be held in conjunction with the University of the Virgin Islands on the two campuses. The St. Thomas fair will be March 8 and 9. The St. Croix one is set for March 11 and 12. Both will include presentations by a number of guest speakers including HUD's Bernardi; Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick; Jackson, Miss., Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr.; and John Jackson, education director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"There is a lot of information that needs to be made public," Hansen said. "We recognize houses don't become homes until they are part of a community; therefore, it's important to ensure that while we build houses, we rebuild our community as well."
Hansen said the full agenda for the fairs will be announced and that space will be limited for participation. To preregister for a fair or to learn more, call his office at 712-2210 or 693-3588.
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