The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Tuesday it has approved the territory’s plan to spend $243 million in disaster relief Community Development Block Grant funds HUD allocated last November to help in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
This is the latest in a series of announcements concerning these funds since HUD first awarded them in November 2017.
“HUD will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners on the ground to help the citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands to recover and rebuild their homes and their lives,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said while announcing the territory’s spending plan was accepted.
“This is a great day for the U.S. Virgin Islands. HUD’s approval of our action plan marks a major milestone in our recovery,” said Gov. Kenneth Mapp. “The approvals we received today will enable us to move forward quickly on major recovery activities across the territory including the dredging of our harbors.”
In HUD’s news release this week. Mapp expressed his “personal thanks to President Donald Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson” for their support.
HUD gave some details on how the funds will be broken down.
The biggest single category of funding is $125.5 million for infrastructure. These funds are targeted for three infrastructure activities:
– $50.55 million as a local match for federal disaster relief programs to help finance educational facilities, energy, hospitals, telecommunications, transportation, waste management, and water/wastewater management;
– $30 million for infrastructure repair and resilience; and
– $45 million to enhance and improve the electrical system.
There is $10 million for homeowner rehabilitation and reconstruction, available to eligible homeowners for properties that were damaged by Hurricanes Irma or Maria.
Another $10 million is allocated for new home construction and first time homebuyer assistance. This program is designed to address post-disaster housing affordability challenges and enable renters to become homeowners.
Rental rehabilitation and reconstruction gets $5 million. This program provides funds for the repair or replacement of damage to rental housing owned by the V.I. Housing Authority, Virgin Islands Housing Finance Agency and private landlords.
A big chunk of the federal pie, $32 million, goes to public and affordable housing development. These funds are targeted for the redevelopment and creation of new affordable housing, including subsidized and mixed-income rental units.
Another pretty big slice of $15 million goes to supportive housing and sheltering programs. This includes both storm shelters and help for the homeless. According to HUD, the USVI’s recovery plan includes an effort for the rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development of housing for vulnerable populations, particularly among low-income seniors and those persons and families experiencing homelessness. This program also includes the development of emergency shelters for individuals and families who cannot shelter in place during disasters. The emergency shelter housing would also serve persons who require short-term housing because they are temporarily displaced.
HUD says the territory will see $33 million for economic revitalization. This includes $23 million for marine port and airport enhancements, including harbor dredging to allow for larger cruise ships; $5 million to train low and moderate-income residents to fill the construction and other jobs coming from recovery investments and $5 million for tourism marketing.
Mapp will holding a news conference Wednesday morning to talk about HUD’s decision and his administration’s plans for the funding. At a similar press conference about the same funds earlier in the year, Mapp said the federal largesse would, in part, expedite plans for:
– The demolition of Tutu High-Rise housing community on St. Thomas,
– The development of two housing communities (one on St. Thomas and the other on St. Croix,) and
– The building of homes for 1,000 residents territory wide who Mapp said have already been approved for low income housing mortgages.
The approval of the spending plan begins an iterative process where the territory will spend funds, demonstrate it spent them correctly, then draw down more funds.
HUD plans to soon issue requirements governing another, larger pool of $1.6 billion in disaster assistance funding HUD announced in April.
Congress approved the money as part of a $300 billion dollar spending bill – the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, approved in February, which included $83 billion for hurricane and wildfire disaster recovery for Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The USVI and other states getting those funds will be required to submit similar plans addressing their use, according to HUD’s announcement this week.