Though the government’s Housing Recovery Assistance Programme was allocated a $9 million boost in May under the umbrella of a Covid-19 pandemic stimulus package funded mostly by the Social Security Board, that wasn’t enough to keep it alive and well.
The programme, which was designed to aid in rebuilding homes following the 2017 hurricanes, stopped accepting applications from residents seeking assistance as of Nov. 30 “until such time as additional funding is provided,” Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone announced Dec. 31 in the House of Assembly.
However, he did not say whether the $9 million had been spent, or how.
Back in July, Mr. Malone said the programme had received 617 applications and counting, and although he did not specify how much total funding had been distributed through the programme, he said 213 applicants received some form of financial assistance.
He said Dec. 31 the number of approved beneficiaries had increased to 265 as of December, just as the window for new applications closed.
This was not the first indication that the programme was in jeopardy. In September 2019, two years after the storms, Mr. Malone said leaders knew it was $17 million short on needed funding.
By the numbers
On Dec. 31, the minister again did not provide a total figure for how much funding has been distributed through the programme to date.
He did, however, offer greater detail about the types of grants that were available to homeowners.
They could benefit from a maximum $100,000 for home repairs through a Housing Recovery General Grant; a Housing Recovery Social Grant to construct social homes based on an accepted evaluated tender price; a maximum $100,000 low-interest loan; a maximum $150,000 Rebuild Grant; a maximum $9,500 Material Grant; a maximum $10,000 Hurricane Shutters Grant; a maximum $1,500 Appliance Grant; or a maximum $15,000 Partial Reimbursement.
“Since taking office in February of 2019, this government made several adjustments to the Housing Recovery Programme so as to ensure that a greater number of persons benefited from the limited resources made available,” Mr. Malone said Dec. 31.
The minister added that a total of 195 people benefited from the general grants, which helped fund efforts to make homes watertight through the installation of roofs, windows and exterior doors, together with essential electrical and plumbing works.
One hundred and one people received such grants under the initial phase of funding granted between 2018 and April 2019, and 94 benefited from the later round of funding supported by the United Kingdom government, Mr. Malone said Dec. 31.
Though 265 applications have been approved, most of the projects are still in process.
“Under the existing grant, a total of 27 home repair projects have been completed, 32 home repair projects are ongoing, 33 home repair projects are currently undergoing the contractor selection process and two home repair projects became ineligible during the process of award,” Mr. Malone said.
He added that 11 of an approved 40 social homes have been completed.
The minister stressed that leaders are seeking more contractors to carry out the works.
Virgin Islands leaders originally announced a plan to spend more than $40 million to repair affected residential buildings, which sustained an estimated $572 million in damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The exact amount of money spent through the programme is unclear, as is the question of how it has been funded after the first phase.
But in May 2019 Mr. Malone announced an agreement between government and the National Bank of the Virgin Islands for a $15 million “deposit.”
He didn’t indicate whether the funding was a loan or donation, though the 2018 Recovery to Development Plan said the bank would partner with government to provide soft loans to qualifying homeowners and landlords for permanent housing assistance.
Few community members have sought out the low-interest loans offered from the National Bank through the programme, he said Dec. 31.
“Beneficiaries recommended for loans refused to accept the loans or failed to complete the process for the loans to be issued,” Mr. Malone said.
Of the six people recommended for approval, four completed the process. He said only $80,000 had been issued of the $210,000 committed to the loan part of the programme.
Mr. Malone said in November 2019 that a new “material grants” category would provide a maximum $7,500 to assist homebuilders who could cover their own labour costs but required assistance purchasing building supplies, though the maximum recently increased to $9,500.
The grants were made possible through additional funding under the remit of the Ministry of Finance and the Premier’s Office, according to Mr. Malone, who did not provide further details at the time.
On Dec. 31 he said that approved beneficiaries utilised a total $1,423,277 through material grants, up from the $1,196,657 committed as of July.
“The material grant component provided an immediate relief to affected households to purchase small quantities of building materials from local suppliers,” Mr. Malone said last week.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development approved 28 grants to purchase hurricane shutters and 40 grants to replace appliances destroyed by storms, which Mr. Malone said the ministry plans to distribute this year.
Here again, however, he did not say how much was spent or identify the source of the money given the projected shortfall.
He said a “partial reimbursement” grant would also be considered this year, without disclosing the amount.
“Three applications have been received for consideration and approval as funding in this regard has been rather limited,” he said.
Mr. Malone did not detail plans for seeking alternative sources of funding to revive the programme, but he said the ministry would “press forward to address those persons who are still in need of housing recovery assistance.”