May 12, 2005 With housing, homelessness and community development always issues across the territory, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the V.I. Housing Finance Authority are holding a series of hearings to listen to what the public has to say.
"We need their input," Jamal Nielsen, DPNR spokesman, said Thursday.
The hearings begin Monday at the Legislature building on St. John.
On Tuesday, the St. Thomas hearing will be held at the Lockhart Elementary School auditorium.
The hearing on St. Croix is Thursday at the Education Department Curriculum Center in Kingshill.
All hearings begin at 5:30 p.m.
For residents who can't attend the hearing, questionnaires will be available at Planning's Community Development Block grant offices on St. Thomas and St. Croix, at the Housing Finance Authority offices on St. Thomas and St. John, at the Administrator's office on St. John, and at the Enid M. Baa Library on St. Thomas and the Athalie McFarlane Petersen Library on St. Croix.
Laurence Joshua, DPNR's director of capital development and planning, said Thursday that, since he hopes to wrap up the hearings by 10 p.m., only a limited number of people will be able to speak. Therefore, he hopes people will fill out the questionnaires to make their voices heard.
Planning and the Housing Authority are working on a "consolidated plan" to address housing, homelessness and community needs. Public input will help the agencies develop funding priorities and programs to be funded.
Joshua said priorities, under a plan developed four years ago, include urban revitalization, preservation of existing housing stock, more home ownership and development of new mixed-income/mixed use neighborhoods.
Support services for the elderly, physically and mentally challenged, homeless, those with HIV/AIDS, and domestic violence victims were also on the previous priority list.
Public/private collaborations with greater roles for community development organizations, strategic land use planning and consolidated planning of housing and community development services and resources were among the priorities set by the two agencies in the earlier plan.
Joshua said that these priorities are just a starting point, and public input may change them.
"We want to get the picture," he said.
He said the agencies are also soliciting input from the government and community organizations.
The V.I. government must develop the plan to continue receiving funding from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development program. Joshua said this is the first year that the federal government mandated the territory complete the plan. Before that, it was voluntary.
The territory currently receives about $1.5 million a year from the federal Home Investment Partnership Program, about $80,000 a year from the Emergency Shelter Grant program and about $2 million a year from the Community Development Block Grant program.
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