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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentSenators Told Recovery from Hurricanes Still a Work in Progress

Senators Told Recovery from Hurricanes Still a Work in Progress

Dayna Clendinen, interim CEO of the Housing Finance Authority, testified before the Senate on Monday. (Photo by Bernard Matthew and Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

Sen. Franklin Johnson said Monday he was impressed with the testimonies of Dayna Clendinen, interim CEO of the Housing Finance Authority, and Adrienne Williams-Octalien, director of the Office of Disaster Recovery, but he was “depressed” with the reality of the disaster recovery. He said he knew of elderly residents who still did not have roofs over their heads six years after back-to-back hurricanes hit the territory.

Sen. Novelle Francis also expressed dismay during the Committee on Disaster Recovery, Infrastructure and Planning hearing over a program where more than 400 homes have been identified as qualified for recovery from the 2017 hurricanes, but at this point, only 29 have been rebuilt. Francis said he knows older adults who have had to leave the territory because of the delay in repairing their houses. Johnson said, “Every time it rains, I think of those elderly residents the rain is falling on.”

Johnson also had concerns about the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital. He asked if he managed to live 10 more years, would the new hospital be complete before he died? He was told the hospital might be finished within five or six years.

Williams-Octalien’s testimony, however, focused on the positive. She said her office “has successfully increased anticipated allocations from $8 billion to $12 billion with the potential to meet or exceed $15 billion over the next few years.” She added that in 2023, “more than $2.2 billion has been obligated as of August, marking a 100 percent increase compared to the funds secured in 2022.”  This brings the total amount of obligated funds to $8.5 billion, according to Williams-Octalien.

Her testimony covered 12 pages. In its conclusion, she said, “In the first quarter of 2024, ODR anticipates solicitations to rebuild six schools, two hospitals, and infrastructure projects for power, wastewater, and potable water. We approach this phase with great hope but are very aware of the complexity of this undertaking given the well-documented workforce, housing, supply chain, and material challenges.”

Clendinen’s 13-page testimony was also positive. It highlighted the grant the local agency received to allow the Water and Power Authority to buy out its contract with Vitol.

She also noted two programs attacking the housing crisis in the territory.

She said that under the New Housing Infrastructure Construction Program, her agency is laying the foundation for a busy year, including the building of 43 single-family homes — 23 that will begin construction in March of 2024, with the remaining 20 to start in June.

The other program — the Homeowner Assistance Fund Program — has been allocated $8.5 million. The program supports homeowners who are financially struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This fund assists with housing costs, including mortgage payments, mortgage reduction, foreclosure prevention, overdue property taxes, insurance, and expenses related to forbearance and delinquency. Eligible homeowners can receive up to $25,000 in assistance.

Committee Chair Sen. Milton Potter said there were two main takeaways from the hearing. One was the need for the local government to come up with matching funds for all the potential grants and an adequate skilled workforce to do the projects.

Attending the hearing were Sens. Dwayne DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Alma Francis Heyliger, Novelle Francis Jr, Kenneth Gittens, Marise James, Franklin Johnson, Carla Joseph, and Milton Potter.


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