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VIHA Explains Benefits Of ‘Helping Hands’ Rent Repayment Campaign On Radio

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — With the expiration of a federal eviction moratorium approaching on December 31, and a one-month extension expected from Congress, the Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) is taking to the radio air waves on Wednesday to promote a program that helps its residents who are behind on their rent remain in their apartments.

In March, seeing the novel coronavirus pandemic take its toll on workers’ incomes, VIHA launched the Helping Hands program to give residents options for dealing with unpaid rent and mounting debt. 

“We can work with you to set up a repayment plan within your means,” said Director of Asset Management Jimmy Farmer, whose staff created Helping Hands. “Even if you owe $1,000 or more, a reasonable amount repaid each month in addition to your regular month’s rent can keep you in good standing.”

The repayment agreement is a written, signed contract between tenant and landlord – in this case, VIHA — spelling out the amount of rent you owe, how much you will pay per month, and for how many months. For VIHA residents, the total amount of rent plus repayment can never exceed 40 percent of adjusted income.

“If you had a decrease in income or a change in circumstances that made it difficult to pay your rent on time, we can recertify your income and adjust your rent to reflect the change,” Farmer added.

The federal CARES Act enacted the first eviction moratorium last March for 120 days. As unemployment figures rose and the virus showed no sign of slowing, protections against eviction continued at the state, local and national level to keep millions of renters housed.  

The most recent issued by the Centers for Disease Control is in effect until December 31st, 2020, and an extension to January 21st, 2021 is reportedly reaching consensus in Congress.

With radio spots airing on WAXJ 103.5 FM and WDHP 1620 AM and soon to launch on WTJX, VIHA hopes to reach as many residents as possible to make sure they have a chance to act while they can.    

The Helping Hands program gives residents until January 31st, 2021 to start a repayment plan and avoid eviction, Farmer said.

Some VIHA residents have been holding back their rent because of needed repairs to their units, Farmer acknowledged. COVID affected the housing agency, too, he said, limiting maintenance workers to emergency repairs for the residents’ as well as their safety. 

“VIHA wants to do the right thing,” Farmer said. “A non-working sink or shower has a monetary value that we can apply as a percentage deduction to your rent based on our repair valuation guide. Talk to your property manager to see if your situation warrants an abatement.”

The economic losses from COVID have forced many people to double up with friends or family, which can trigger an eviction if they are not on the lease. 

The Helping Hands program may be able to get them on the lease without increasing the household’s income. Farmer encouraged them, as well as elderly residents with live-in caretakers, to talk to their property manager about their situation.  

“VIHA wants to keep your family whole,” he said.

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