Statement
20 May 2019 - 4:32pm

STATEMENT GIVEN BY THE MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE

AT THE THIRD SITTING OF THE FIRST SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

ON FRIDAY, 17TH MAY 2019

Housing Recovery Assistance Programme Update

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present an update on the support being provided to vulnerable households by the Government of the Virgin Islands to repair and rebuild hurricane-damaged homes.

The Housing Recovery Assistance Programme was created following the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 as the housing stock throughout the Territory was significantly damaged, and many households required assistance to rebuild to safe and affordable living standards.

A comprehensive Housing Recovery Assistance Policy and a Housing Recovery Plan were both approved in November 2017. Programme Guidelines were established to guide its implementation through a number of initiatives.

I am pleased to report that the Programme has been both challenging and rewarding.

The first initiative to be executed was a Materials Grant programme which resulted in a total of $517,127.83 being awarded in building material vouchers to 117 recipients.

Additionally, Mr. Speaker, nine (9) households are being provided with temporary housing support. 

In the second initiative, the Government of the Virgin Islands and the National Bank entered into agreement for the deposit of $15,000,000 to be disbursed as follows:

  1. Housing Grants $3,500,000
  2. Social Housing $8,000,000
  3. Loans $3,000,000
  4. Professional & Administrative fees $500,000

On invitation by Government a total of 543 applications were received for assistance under this fund since January 2018, representing approximately $41M in funding requests. Four hundred and nineteen (419) of these applicants met the eligibility criteria and would require over $32 Million dollars to fund their basic building requirements. This has resulted in funding gap of more than Seventeen Million dollars ($17M).

In order to ensure that priority would be given to the most needy families in the award of grants, applications were ranked by their vulnerability scores, following technical and social assessments conducted by the Public Works Department and the Social Development Department, respectively. 

Based on available funding, 130 qualifying applicants have been approved to date, broken down as follows:

  • 22 applicants for social housing for a total cost of three million dollars ($3M).
  • 105 applicants were approved for general grants, representing a total commitment of five million, five hundred fifty thousand dollars ($5,550,000.)
  • 3 applicants qualified for loans a total value of three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000.).

Mr. Speaker, reflecting its commitment to a collaborative approach, the Ministry of Health and Social Development has partnered with local Non-Profit Organisations, the UK Government and the Recovery and Development Agency to provide additional housing support to several more families in need.

Despite these achievements, many eligible applicants remain displaced without the financial means to repair their homes. Having heard their cries of distress, I made it a priority to conduct a thorough review of the Programme upon assuming office as Minister for the subject.

Following extensive consultations with the technical teams, the Joint Housing Recovery Committee, the National Bank of the Virgin Islands and other stakeholders, we have decided to increase the allocation of funding being applied towards general grants, bringing the total to ten million, five hundred fifty thousand dollars ($10,550,000.).  Taking into account the grants that were previously awarded, this change will result in an additional five million dollars ($5M) to facilitate essential repairs to hurricane-damaged homes. 

Funding allocated to Social Housing under the Programme will remain at three million dollars ($3M) and Loan funding will be adjusted to five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000).  Mr. Speaker, the decision to decrease the level of funding provided for loans was largely driven by the fact that the vast majority of applicants did not satisfy the Bank’s credit requirements.

Another important feature of the re-designed Housing Recovery Assistance Programme is the award of partial grants that would be sufficient to make beneficiaries’ homes watertight together with essential electrical and plumbing installation works.  This adjustment would reduce the scope of works paid for under the Programme, thus allowing more households to be assisted within the available resources.

Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Health and Social Development will directly engage qualified contractors, building material suppliers and construction professionals for the delivery of all new projects approved under the Programme.  In addition to benefits derived from economies of scale through bulk purchasing, direct contracting will improve the supervision of construction works to ensure that quality standards are met.

Mr. Speaker, the modifications being made to the Housing Recovery Assistance Programme will go a long way in providing relief to several more uninsured families whose homes suffered damages to roofs, windows and doors. 

This need is ever more pressing as another Atlantic Hurricane Season approaches.  While the Government is not in a position to satisfy every request, my Ministry will be working in tandem with the Recovery and Development Agency to make an additional three million dollars ($3M) available to support the re-designed Programme.  By combining our resources in this fashion, we expect to reduce the funding gap by at least 50%; and will continue to give priority to the most vulnerable households.

Mr. Speaker, I appeal to all community-minded individuals, Non Profit Organizations and private businesses to partner with the Ministry and the RDA to address the needs of other eligible households who we are not in a position to assist due to funding shortages.

In closing, I want to put on the record the Government’s recognition of all the hard work of the team of Public Officers, volunteers, consultants, contractors and other partners that have contributed to the creation and implementation of the Housing Recovery Assistance Programme. The road to recovery and rebuilding may seem long, but we must remember to celebrate milestones along the way. Thank you Mr. Speaker.

 

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