Two pieces of legislation, one allowing the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park Corporation to dispense loans to eligible businesses and the other aimed to aid first-time homebuyers, were advanced through the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Thursday and await review by 34th Legislature.
Sens. Kurt Vialet and Novelle Francs Jr. proposed the bill introducing the First-Time Homebuyers Program, which would allow for loans to be governed through the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority and help homebuyers with the initial 20 percent down payment that mortgage lenders require.
The program, if signed into law, would act like “gap financing.”
“It’s an attempt for an effective mechanism that would allow for individuals who do not qualify for any of the existing homeowner’s programs, and individuals who do not make enough to be able to enter into a loan, have the 20 percent down payment,” said Vialet, who is not a member of the committee.
Whatever amount of money the prospective homeowner doesn’t have toward the down payment would be supplemented through the program and open up opportunities for working-class professionals in the community to own their own home, Vialet said.
The homebuyer program has gained traction with senators, as has Bill No. 34-0058, which would establish the Virgin Islands Catalyst Fund to be managed by the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park Corporation to distribute loans to entities that will promote economic resiliency, create employment opportunities or support job retention.
The program would appropriate $5 million of $6 million from the bitumen funds paid to the Government of the Virgin Islands, while the remaining $1 million would go to marketing the South Shore Trade Zone; a 3,000-acre area on the south shore of St. Croix that encompasses the territory’s newest enterprise zone.
Sen. Carla Joseph said what resonated with her about the legislation is that it helps “sustain local economic growth.”
Sen. Franklin Johnson also championed the legislation and said it was a “game-changer” for all U.S. Virgin Islands entrepreneurs.
“It will help these young entrepreneurs fulfill that goal to open up a business and be able to maintain it and keep it open and going. Over the pandemic, over the hurricane, and even WAPA have caused a lot of small entrepreneurs to close their doors,” Johnson said. “Hopefully this came at the right time and will avoid that from happening to any more entrepreneurs and those who want to go into business and have that opportunity to make it to the end.”
There were no witnesses called to testify on the bills, as each had been heard and vetted in prior committees. During Thursday’s brief hearing, each bill was voted on, passed and advanced to the full body for further action.
Sens. Johnson, Francis, Joseph, Steven Payne Sr., Milton Potter and Genevieve Whitaker were present for the hearing. Sen. Kenneth Gittens was absent. Additional non-committee members were also present.