Bill Putting Housing Programs Under One Agency Ok'd By Committee

Sept. 16, 2007 — After languishing for about a year, a bill that consolidates many of the territory's housing programs under one government agency finally made its way to the Housing, Sports and Veteran's Affairs Committee, which sent it on with its stamp of approval.
Sponsored by Sen. Louis P. Hill, the bill reorganizes the structure of the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation and turns over the all of the agency's housing functions — including the emergency housing and home loan programs — to the V.I. Housing Finance Authority (HFA).
Creating a one-stop shop for housing has long been on the government's drawing board, receiving support from officials in both agencies and from Gov. John deJongh Jr. In fact, deJongh recently sent a similar proposal to the Senate for consideration, but was pre-empted by Hill's request, which was put in about a year ago.
Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire N. Williams has said that the bill would allow his department to devote more time to local recreation activities and maintaining the territory's parks. He has also said that many of the units currently under the emergency housing program are in deplorable condition and are in need of remodeling — a project better left to the expertise and resources available in HFA.
The cost of taking over the department's housing responsibilities has already been factored into HFA's budget, authority Executive Director Clifford Graham said during a recent budget hearing. HFA's operating budget for fiscal year 2008, which has jumped up to $2.4 million, would cover the salaries of eight new employees transferred from Housing, Parks and Recreation.
In addition to approving the transfer bill Friday, senators also gave their support during the meeting to bills giving HFA the right of first refusal on all government land up for sale, and renaming the Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in downtown St. Thomas in honor of fallen veterans.
All bills now go onto the Rules and Judiciary Committee for a second vote.
Also attending the meeting were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Neville A. James, Ronald E. Russell, James A. Weber III, Carmen M. Wesselhoft, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams.
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