The government has received more than 600 applications for housing assistance since January 2018, representing over $43 million in funding requests, Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone said on July 31 in the House of Assembly while giving an update on the status of the Housing Recovery Assistance Programme.
Of those applicants, 444 meet the eligibility requirements for assistance, and more than $34 million is needed to fund their “basic building requirements,” Mr. Malone explained.
Mr. Malone previously had said in a May 17 HOA statement that the programme, which was initially funded by a $15 million deposit from the Bank of the Virgin Islands, had received 419 applications that met the eligibility criteria, and would require more than $32 million to fund their “basic building requirements,” resulting in a funding shortfall of over $17 million.
On July 31 he said the shortfall remained about the same, at over $17 million.
So far, 155 applicants havebeen approved, he said, an uptick from the 130 applicants he said were approved on May 17.
As of May 31, he said, 130 applicants had been approved for housing grants costing a total of $5.55 million, 25 more than the 105 who were approved as of May 17, with the $5.55 million cost remaining about the same.
No more applicants had been approved for “social housing” or loans, he said, with the figure remaining at 22 applicants for a total cost of $3 million and three applicants for a total cost of $300,000, respectively.
On May 17 Mr. Malone had announced that the allocation of funding earmarked for grants would increase by $5 million.
On July 31 in response to questions from Opposition Leader Marlon Penn, he said that the $5 million increase had been approved and was being disbursed, with $3 million of that amount already “committed.”
He also gave an update on the 22 residents approved for a total of $3 million in grants to build “social housing.”
The Public Works Department, he said, has designed a two-bedroom structure that can be erected quickly for owners of hurricane-damaged homes.
He added that the $3 million allocated for social housing had already reached its “threshold” and that the HSD Ministry has been looking for another system to distribute grants to people who met the requirements but were unable to receive homes.
Mr. Malone explained that the HSD Ministry considered a programme to help residents make their roofs, windows and doors watertight, but found that many residents in need did not even have a foundation, making the initiative “defeatist.”
He added that his ministry was working with the Ministry of Finance to fulfill the conditions necessary to access a $50 million loan from the Caribbean Development Bank as well as the United Kingdom’s £300 million loan guarantee.
Mr. Malone was vague when pushed by Mr. Penn on measures government is taking to assist Virgin Islands residents whose homes are still damaged from the 2017 hurricanes and are at risk of further damage during the ongoing hurricane season.
“We’re going to be trying. Collectively, we have to find ways of how we can get this done,” he said, and touched on the lengthy process of passing measures through Cabinet.
Mr. Penn responded, “I would never advocate for you breaking the rules, but I think we need to find a way. As we all know, all of us — I know all 13 of us get these complaints, get these concerns from residents who are experiencing extreme hardship still, after the 2017 hurricanes.”
Mr. Penn also pushed Mr. Malone on issues related to the Pockwood Pond incinerator, which has seen piles of waste landfilled behind the facility since it broke down in November.
The landfill frequently catches fire, sending smoke to nearby residents and leading the HSD Ministry to distribute filtered masks.
Mr. Malone said he was unsure if children could use the masks, in response to questions from Mr. Penn, who said he had read reports that they cannot.
The HSD minister also addressed concerns from Mr. Penn that residents who received masks were asked to sign documents waiving liability for the use of the mask or any claims against government for the effects of the smoke.
“The waiver in question is basically for the effective use, the actual correct usage of the respirators, not from the other areas,” he said, but did not clarify further.
He added that each mask and replacement filter cost $35.80 and $13.84, respectively, making the costs of all 400 masks and filters $19,856.
He added that the September 2019 timeline for the repair of the incinerator remained the same, but that his ministry was looking at alternative methods to reduce the amount of waste coming into the system in the first place.