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Governor Bryan Welcomes HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to USVI

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Governor Albert Bryan welcomed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge to the U.S. Virgin Islands on Friday, during her visit that follows on the heels of Governor Bryan’s meeting with her in Washington, D.C., in February.

Secretary Fudge toured the Donoe affordable housing project underway on St. Thomas and the Celestino White Sr. Senior Citizens Residence in Sugar Estate, then hosted an in-person and virtual meeting with representatives from the territory’s nonprofits and offered HUD’s assistance with their housing programs and initiatives.

Governor Bryan Welcomes HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to USVI
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge (center, with microphone) meets in person and virtually with representatives from local nonprofits at Government House on St. Thomas on Friday, April 1.

Governor Bryan, who is in Washington, D.C., for official meetings, appeared virtually to open the meeting and welcome Secretary Fudge to the USVI, thanking her for her efforts at the highest level of the federal government on behalf of the territory.

“We really appreciate the attention the Virgin Islands has gotten on this matter and hope that while your there you’re staying to see some of the issues that confront us on a daily basis in trying to get back to where we were four or five years ago,” Governor Bryan said. “And I’m going to say that what we’re experiencing at this time is not a recovery. It’s a total transformation of the Virgin Islands, and I hope you’ll have an opportunity to see our Magens Bay development to see the types of development that we’re doing and the kind of housing that we have.”

Secretary Fudge opened the meeting with the nonprofits by saying that her next visit to the Territory will be to St. Croix and telling them that the president is very concerned about the Virgin Islands, as is she.

Governor Bryan Welcomes HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to USVI

The secretary spoke of a sense of urgency to spending the federal funding available to the U.S. Virgin Islands to accomplish the housing projects and recovery initiatives throughout the Territory, and she offered any necessary assistance to the Government of the Virgin Islands and the local nonprofit community at the highest levels of HUD.

“This administration has put more dollars into states and territories than any president in history, and we need you to succeed… but we can’t wait forever,” Secretary Fudge said. “One of the reasons I am here is to try to find a way to be helpful so that your recovery is stronger and more equitable.”

Secretary Fudge warned that Congress has only a finite amount of money and if they see little progress they will take funds and use them elsewhere, and she said the Territory needs to use plentiful federal funding available through in a way that is strategic and smart on things that are going to be resilient and long-lasting.

“What I am asking is for you to work with some urgency, and we want to help you do it,” Secretary Fudge said. “In the president’s budget that was released Monday, he’s asking for 200,000 vouchers. But it doesn’t make any difference how many vouchers we have if there’s no place for people to live. So, again, we need to move with some urgency.”

Governor Bryan Welcomes HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to USVI
V.I. Housing Authority Director Robert Graham and V.I. Housing Finance Authority Interim Executive Director Dayna Clendinen.

Interim V.I. Housing Finance Authority Executive Director Dayna Clendinen and V.I. Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham hosted Secretary Fudge and her staff and escorted them on walking tours of the affordable housing project underway in Estate Done that is part of the housing initiatives under construction to replace the Tutu Hi-Rise and Ras Valley housing communities that were destroyed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“Along with these funding opportunities, I was excited in our discussion to focus on other areas – such as providing technical assistance – in which we can help our stakeholders be successful,” Interim Director Clendinen said. “In truth, charitable non-profits and governments are natural partners, as we serve the same constituents within the community. Therefore, the challenges of one are challenges for all, and working together allows us all to leverage our collective resources to serve our community even better.”

Governor Bryan’s Chief of Staff Karl Knight participated in the meeting with the nonprofits on the Governor’s behalf.

Staff members traveling with Secretary Fudge included Deputy Assistant Secretary of HUD Alan Williams, HUD’s Disaster Recovery and Planning Specialist for the Virgin Islands Jessie Huddleston and Efrain Maldonado, director of HUD’s Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands Field Office.

The local nonprofit organizations that participated in-person and virtually from St. Croix included:

• Community First of St Croix

• St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group

• Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands

• Love City Strong

• Women’s Coalition of St Croix

• Methodist Training Outreach Center

• St. Croix Foundation for Community Development

• Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands

• Island Green Living Association-St. John

• St. John Community Foundation

• Continuum of Care, Inc., St. Croix

• Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands

• Legal Services of the Virgin Islands

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HUD Secretary Meets With USVI and PR Officials About Recovery Efforts, Housing

WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, March 29 and to the U.S. Virgin Islands on Friday, April 1 to tour the islands’ disaster recovery efforts, meet with residents, local leaders, and elected officials about housing challenges and their experiences during reconstruction, and strengthen existing relationships to ensure ongoing collaboration and an equitable recovery.

The Secretary traveled to San Juan, Ponce, and Loiza while in Puerto Rico. In San Juan, Secretary Fudge joined Governor Pedro Pierluisi to meet with recovery agencies and discuss Puerto Rico’s recovery process since Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, and the earthquakes beginning in December 2019. Secretary Fudge also joined Governor Pierluisi as he signed an executive order joining the House America initiative to combat homelessness.

“My visit to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands emphasizes the great urgency there is for an efficient, effective, and equitable recovery across the islands,” said Secretary Fudge. “We want people to know that HUD, under this Administration, is on their side to ensure that reconstruction and other pressing issues are being met through community-based and culturally-appropriate efforts and that all stakeholders have a seat at the table. I heard many different perspectives during my visit – from government to nonprofit to private sector – and with ongoing collaboration and accountability, we can ensure equitable recovery and strengthened resilience for all people.”

In Ponce, Secretary Fudge met with local mayors to discuss disaster recovery progress, and then participated in a listening session with nonprofits and direct service providers on disaster recovery and housing challenges.

During the listening session, participants shared comments on the issues facing municipalities as it relates to housing in Puerto Rico. The meeting brought together participants from non-profit and disaster recovery service providers, and the overarching theme throughout the listening session was inequity.

Participants highlighted the capacity constraints throughout the reconstruction and relocation process after the extreme weather events that have impacted the island over the past decade. Secretary Fudge and participants discussed strategies to measure performance, analyze reconstruction and disaster recovery funds, and partner with local leaders to benefit marginalized communities in Puerto Rico.

At the end of the listening session, Secretary Fudge emphasized HUD’s mission of providing the equitable opportunity to safe, stable, resilient, and affordable housing for all communities in the nation. Following the listening session, the Secretary visited a home rehabilitated with Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding and welcomed a resident to it for the first time.

On March 31, Secretary Fudge traveled to Loiza for a meet and greet with Loiza Mayor Julia Nazario Fuentes followed by a policy expert roundtable, a lunch with direct service providers and anti-gender-based violence advocates, and a meeting with local private sector leaders.

During the policy expert roundtable, Secretary Fudge participated in discussions with participants on reconstruction strategies. Experts discussed the history of public housing and housing security in Puerto Rico, and the need to resolve the supply and demand needs for residents.

Participants also shed light on how the storm damages and reconstruction rates have perpetuated income segregation, poverty concentration, and opportunity and affordability disparities. Secretary Fudge and participants also discussed the billions of dollars in disaster relief that HUD, under this Administration, has made available to the island for reconstruction and resilience. While closing the conversation, Secretary Fudge assured consistent meetings between the Department and stakeholders on the ground to move forward with evidence-based solutions and build capacity.

Following the roundtable, the Secretary met with anti-gender based violence advocates. At the top of the meeting, the Secretary highlighted the programs at HUD that address gender-based violence.

Advocates – with lived experience – from various anti-gender-based violence organizations highlighted housing insecurity as a high-risk factor among victims. Advocates noted that the hurricanes, earthquakes, and pandemic have negatively affected victims via housing insecurity, unemployment, malnourishment, and compromised security. Participants also noted the racial and gender bias within the reconstruction process.

Secretary Fudge thanked the advocates for their time and for their candor, reiterating HUD’s commitment to preventing gender-based violence by ensuring that everyone has equitable access to safe, affordable housing. The Secretary suggested the opportunity to create a pool of resources and ensured that HUD will facilitate meetings between the government and advocates. She also assured continued collaboration with experts, including at HUD, to meet the urgency of the situation so that survivors can safely reach self-sufficiency.

Finalizing the Loiza trip, Secretary Fudge and the HUD team met with local private sector leaders to discuss HUD programs, affordable housing, reconstruction, and economic recovery. The Secretary noted the various concerns from local mayors, nonprofits, direct service providers, policy experts, and advocates to facilitate partnerships and build capacity towards permanent solutions. Secretary Fudge also stressed the importance of ensuring that federal housing investments are spent efficiently and effectively.

On April 1, Secretary Fudge visited St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to tour Estate Donoe, a Tutu Phase I Redevelopment Project, visit Celestino A. White Senior Homes Development, and participated in a roundtable with USVI nonprofit community organizations.

Throughout the site visits, Secretary Fudge was joined by Robert Graham, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority; Dayna Clendinen, Interim Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority; and site residents. The Secretary analyzed the disaster recovery efforts and discussed the importance of ongoing collaboration toward an equitable recovery.

During the roundtable, the Secretary listened to nonprofit community organizations that have participated in the recovery efforts from previous extreme weather events. The Secretary assured HUD’s commitment to strengthen existing relationships and meet the urgency of strengthening resilience to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Secretary’s visit to Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands emphasizes HUD and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to strengthening resilience and housing security for all communities in the nation.

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HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman Visits USVI to Meet With Governor Bryan

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Making good on a promise she made during a virtual meeting last month with Governor Albert Bryan, Deputy Secretary of HUD Adrianne Todman visited the territory in her official capacity to tour some disaster recovery projects on St. Thomas.

During their hourlong meeting on Friday, Governor Bryan and the deputy secretary discussed a wide range of topics related to housing and disaster recovery issues in the Territory, including rebuilding the territory’s workforce following the COVID-19 pandemic; the re-emergence of Tourism and the return of cruise ships; the progress of rebuilding the schools; the need for more housing and related opportunities; issues regarding adequate building supplies and materials; and the USVI’s movement toward renewable energy sources.

Deputy Secretary Todman, who is a native of St. Thomas, also gave the governor an update on the federal reconciliation bill and Build Back Better Initiative making their way through Congressional negotiations. She said that while the amount remains unclear at this point, the prospects for additional funding requested by HUD are very positive, which would result in more federal funding for housing in the territory.

HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman Visits USVI to Meet With Governor Bryan

She and the governor also discussed the impact the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Bill might have on broadband accessibility, roads, homeownership and public housing preservation.

Governor Bryan also expressed his concerns about sustainable economic development and issues encountered as the Territory, and the country, deals with the continuing impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his efforts to revitalize the territory’s towns.

Deputy Secretary Todman said that because of her close ties to the USVI, which she visits frequently on a personal level, that the Bryan-Roach Administration will have beneficial opportunities for real engagement and representation in Washington, D.C. She also said she would be available within the scope of her role with HUD to assist the USVI in its dealings with other federal agencies.

Following her meeting with Governor Bryan, Deputy Secretary Todman was joined by Virgin Islands Housing Finance (VIHFA) Director Daryl Griffith and VIHFA Chief Disaster Recovery Officer Dayna Clendinen for site visits of the Magens Junction and Donoe affordable housing projects, as well as some private homes that were rebuilt as part of VIHFA’s EnVIsion Program.

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Bryan Hails HUD’s Approval Of CDBG Action Plan for Hurricane Recovery

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Governor Albert Bryan applauded the decision by the U.S. Department of Housing, and Urban Development to approve the territory’s action plan using the fourth tranche of $774 million of disaster relief funding for the 2017 hurricanes, which is awarded through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG-MIT) funding earmarked for mitigation projects in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Approval of the plan frees up federal funding to spend on housing, infrastructure & public facilities; economic resilience & revitalization; public services, and planning.

“HUD’s approval of our mitigation plan clears the way for the Bryan-Roach Administration to fulfill its pledge to fully realize our community’s recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” Governor Bryan said. “These funds not only help us strengthen the resiliency of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but also make it possible for us to build better, newer, and stronger and to upgrade our standard of living in the Territory.”

Unlike the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds, which have been awarded for hurricane-specific disaster recovery, mitigation dollars can fund projects of a varying nature to serve the Territory’s most critical mitigation needs, even without a clear tie-back to a specific disaster.

Locally, this fourth tranche of federal assistance is administered through the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) in collaboration with the Virgin Islands Office of Disaster Recovery.

“The 2017 hurricanes crippled the Virgin Islands and truly revealed our weaknesses in disaster response. This approval is a major win for the territory because this is the first time that we’ve ever had access to such a large volume of capital to address issues in our community that surface after natural disasters,” said VIHFA Executive Director Daryl Griffith. “With mitigation funds, we can adequately prepare not just for hurricanes, but for earthquakes, flash floods, and tsunamis as well.”

The USVI’s action plan was shaped by community input provided through a series of town hall meetings, focus groups, and surveys conducted in 2020.

HUD’s CDBG-MIT Program supports strategic and high-impact activities to mitigate disaster risks and reduce future losses by lessening the impact of future disasters and reducing or eliminating the long-term risk of loss of life, injury, damage to and loss of property, and suffering and hardship.

The plan proposes activities to address unmet infrastructure and public facilities, economic resilience, housing, public services, and planning needs, following HUD requirements and public input, using data-driven decision-making to establish priorities.

A digital copy of the USVI’s HUD-approved Mitigation Action Plan is available online here at the V.I. Housing Finance Authority’s website.

More information about the CDBG-MIT Program in the Territory is available online at cdbgdr.vihfa.gov/programs/cdbg-mitigation.

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USVI, Puerto Rico Inching Closer To Getting $2 Billion For Electric Grid Repairs

SAN JUAN — The federal government took another step on Monday towards releasing nearly $2 billion to repair Puerto Rico’s troubled electrical grid, part of a pool of money withheld from the island for years even as it struggled to recover from the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will publish a federal register notice for $1.93 billion in electrical grid funding, outlining the rules and regulations governing its use. The money is meant to help the electrical system become more resistant to future storms and climate change, as well as emit less carbon dioxide. It also requires the island’s government to outline how it will ensure the money reaches marginalized and underserved populations.

“We think that it will really kick-start some of the conversations that are already happening on the island around the future of the electrical system and make sure it’s not only resistant to the next storm but contributes less to climate change than it did before,” a HUD official told the Miami Herald.

USVI, Puerto Rico Inching Closer To Getting  Billion For Electric Grid Repairs

The HUD funds laid out in the federal registry on Monday will also be distributed to improve the energy systems of the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. John and St. Thomas experienced a total outage days ago.

The release of funds is the latest move from President Joe Biden’s administration to free up the long-stalled relief money, originally assigned by Congress during the Trump administration.

HUD said that 90 percent of funds allocated through HUD had now been committed, a development that comes as the agency — along with other federal entities — moves to loosen Trump-era rules that Puerto Rican officials say slowed recovery and delivery of funds.

“This is, in many ways, one of the last steps to put Puerto Rico on a level playing field,” a HUD official said.

In February, HUD approved the release of $1.3 billion from a program designed to mitigate future disaster and climate risks, and loosened oversight and requirements on an additional nearly $5 billion.

Much of the money from the federal government to repair Puerto Rico’s energy grid is coming through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which allocated $9.6 billion in September 2020 for the purpose — among the largest awards in FEMA’s history.

Puerto Rico’s power grid, owned by the island’s bankrupt public utility, is vulnerable and outdated. Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed thousands, destroyed the dated power system. It took 11 months to restore power to the entire main island in the Puerto Rican archipelago. All of Vieques, an offshore town of 9,000 residents, was still running on generators over a year after the devastating storm struck. Powerful earthquakes at the beginning of 2020 also damaged power generation capacity and left the island in a near-total blackout.

As of June 1, LUMA Energy, a San Juan-based group composed of North American companies Atco and Quanta Services, is operating the distribution and transmission lines of the island’s electric grid. The private operator, awarded a 15-year contract worth millions of dollars, has pledged to modernize the utility and cut costs.

But not everyone is on board with LUMA’s entry into the energy utility. Detractors have concerns that run the gamut from opposition to privatization of government services to criticism that the service contract is too costly. Some want the agreement to get canceled altogether.

Recent power outages across the island, including one that left nearly a million customers in the dark on June 10, have left many people frustrated with the new operator. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, who hopes LUMA will improve services and infrastructure at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, has asked residents of the island to give the company time to settle into its duties.

HUD officials say the money should help support clean energy sources, including solar panels.

Environmental activists and renewable energy experts on the island have long advocated for building a decentralized power system that relies on solar panels and battery storage. Their ambitions align with Puerto Rico energy policy, which requires that the U.S. territory run on 100% clean energy by 2050. Currently, less than three percent of the island’s power comes from renewable sources.

A March 2021 study found that, using the federal funds already available, Puerto Rico could generate 75 percent of its energy from the sun if every house and some commercial buildings were set up with solar panels. The researchers concluded this would increase disaster resiliency while significantly bringing down harmful emissions and electricity costs.

By ALEX ROARTY/The Miami Herald

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Donald Trump, HUD Secretary Ben Carson Kicked Puerto Rico When It Was Down

SAN JUAN — The Trump administration victimized Puerto Ricans a second time with arbitrary red tape that delayed the disbursement of federal disaster money in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, hamstringing the island’s economic recovery.

That’s the conclusion of experts who have read a matter-of-fact 52-page new report by the independent inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that was released last week.

The report found that the White House Office of Management and Budget played a key role in prodding HUD to add additional requirements for Puerto Rico to access the disaster aid.

“Residents of Puerto Rico were revictimized by their own government,” said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, Puerto Rico’s only representative in Congress.

Those delays have cost the island as much as three years in preparing for the next major hurricane, said Rosanna Torres, director of the Washington office of the nonpartisan Center for a New Economy.

“We’ve spoken to many academics who say that the longer it takes for funds to reach disaster victims, the longer it takes to achieve economic growth,” she said, referring to the report as “outrageous.”

Torres said, “I think what it says is that we were unfairly punished and it validates that yes, indeed funds were held hostage.”

Reconstruction of the island’s housing and infrastructure is necessary for reviving the territory’s economy and helping its government to exit from Title 3 bankruptcy proceedings.

Last week the Biden administration released $ 8.2 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) funds and eliminated a federal financial monitor to oversee the disbursement of the funds.

The administration also removed 30 pages of federal regulations that applied only to Puerto Rico disaster applications and not for Florida, Texas or other states.

“Puerto Rico deserves to be treated fairly and on equal terms with any other state of the nation that has been impacted by a natural disaster,” Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said in a press statement Tuesday.

Pierluisi spoke earlier that day to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to thank her for releasing the long-delayed aid.

“Today, thanks to their commitment, Puerto Rico has access to 89% of the disaster assistance funds allocated by HUD,” said Pierluisi.

The findings in the audit released by HUD’s Office of Inspector General about the arbitrary delays in releasing the $8.2 billion are no surprise to Robert Olshansky, an emeritus professor of Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Olshansky, a member of the Center for a New Economy’s Growth Commission, said it was already “very clear that the Trump administration was doing everything it possibly could to slow down the flow of recovery assistance to Puerto Rico.”

Various federal Community Development Block Grant action plans submitted by Puerto Rico “seemed to keep getting mysteriously lost in various limbos when we should have been expecting approval any day,” he said. “And they also created extra layers of oversight that greatly slowed things down without really adding a meaningful layer of accountability.”

“In my world, this report is non-news,” Olshansky added. “It documents what we all knew was going on.”

For Gonzalez-Colon, who caucuses with Republicans in Congress, the relatively speedy approval of the disaster aid by Congress was a mark of success for her.

But she was subsequently “played” by the Trump administration which imposed delay upon delay in dispersing the money, according to Fernando Gil-Enseñat, former secretary of Vivienda, Puerto Rico’s housing agency.

Gil-Enseñat was forced to resign in January 2020 under the administration of interim Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced. Part of the reason he was given for being forced out was because of his objections to the 30 pages of new federal regulations for disaster aid applications.

However, Gil-Enseñat said he was “basically fired” by Vázquez Garced because of his support of Pedro Pierluisi to succeed her as governor.

“In a way, I am extremely proud of the job that we were able to accomplish there,” Gil-Enseñat said, referring to the initial disbursement of $1.5 billion disaster aid by HUD.

The IG audit found that the delays were instituted after that initial $1.5 billion in was disbursed. In fact, the initial $1.5 billion was granted a waiver by HUD for disbursement during a month-long shutdown of federal government operations between Dec. 22, 2018, and Jan. 25, 2019.

“HUD’s decision to revise its grant-agreement template impacted the timeframe of HUD’s execution of a grant agreement for the second tranche of $8.2 billion in funding for unmet needs for Puerto Rico,” the report said. “The grant agreement for this tranche of funds took considerably longer than the agreement for the first $1.5 billion tranche, and the execution of this agreement was delayed in comparison to the other jurisdictions from the same appropriation.”

The delays by the Trump administration in helping Puerto Rico repair and rebuild housing with the additional emergency aid in the wake of the hurricanes is one the reasons the territory has continually lost population, Gil-Enseñat said.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that Puerto Rico’s population fell 11.8% over the last decade
to 3.29 million on April 1, 2020, from the same date in 2010.

“They left because they couldn’t rebuild,” Gil-Enseñat told The Bond Buyer, adding that it was cheaper for them to purchase a $99 one-way ticket to Orlando and apply for welfare benefits in Florida as U.S. citizens.

He said the Trump administration knew Puerto Ricans were leaving the island but didn’t care.

Gil-Enseñat credits Gov. Pierluisi and William Rodriguez, the current head of Puerto Rico’s housing agency, for persuading the Biden administration to release the additional $8.2 billion this month.

The OIG report released last week itself faced long delays in being completed because of refusal of Trump administration officials to cooperate.

The OIG report said it opened the audit in March 2019 after receiving a congressional request to examine alleged delays in the disbursement of approximately $20 billion of disaster recovery and mitigation funds appropriated for Puerto Rico following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, D-N.Y., told the Washington Post last week that she led the call for the investigation on the belief that the Trump administration’s actions were “a way to prevent the people of Puerto Rico from access to so much needed money to prevent people from dying.”

Velazquez told the newspaper that Congress needs to find ways to ensure that federal agencies “comply with the will of Congress” after the funding is appropriated to them.

Torres said the political appointees come across in the report as “not only immoral but cowardly” because they refused to own up to their actions when asked by the inspector general.

“The OIG’s access to HUD information in this review was delayed or denied in several instances,” the report said. “We did not obtain testimony from former HUD Secretary Ben Carson because he declined to be interviewed by the OIG unless an attorney from the Department (“agency counsel”) was present.”

The OIG report said it was also delayed in interviewing several senior HUD political appointees because of the department’s insistence that agency counsel be present during the interviews. “Some of those same officials eventually agreed to be interviewed without agency counsel present in the interview room, but then refused to answer certain questions because they claimed the information was protected from disclosure to the OIG by executive privilege,” said the report.

Experts said they are encouraged by the Biden administration’s recent actions to get the reconstruction work back on track.

Gonzalez Colon, the island’s representative in Congress, said, “HUD is adopting greater flexibility to the agreements with Puerto Rico.”

“I hope that the federal funds I obtained in Congress will continue to be disbursed, and today more than ever, with the lashes of the earthquakes and the pandemic, our people need,” she said.

Olshansky has a similar view. “From what I can see, the Biden administration is taking significant steps to rectify many of the problems and remove many of the roadblocks,” he said.

Torres said she’s seen “good signaling from the administration” that federal funds will “eventually trickle down to the island.”

But there’s still other hurdles to cross.

“We have still not seen from this latest announcement the grant agreement, so we’ll see,” Torres said, adding there also has not yet been a public notice about the release of a fourth tranche of federal funds to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid.

By Brian Tumulty Reporter, The Bond Buyer

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Bryan Salutes Adrianne Todman On Her Nomination for Deputy Secretary of HUD

CHRISTIANSTED — Governor Albert Bryan issued the following statement congratulating native Virgin Islander Adrianne Todman following the announcement that President Biden intends to nominate her for the position of Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development:

“I want to congratulate Adrianne Todman on the announcement of her nomination and also thank her for being yet another example — for the nation and the world — of the quality of leadership that comes out of the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Governor Bryan said. “Ms. Todman is an established expert in the affordable housing sector, who has decades of experience working in various roles at HUD, and she is the current CEO of the National Association of Housing Redevelopment Officials. Her nomination only adds to the bright promise being shown by the Biden Administration.

“The Bryan-Roach Administration looks forward to working with her and her staff, particularly on the housing issues facing the Territory, which are the same issues that have been the mainstay of her long and successful career,” Governor Bryan said.

Before joining NAHRO, Ms. Todman served as the executive director of the District of Columbia Housing Authority, where she implemented a national award-winning model to house homeless veterans, increased homeownership opportunities by 50percent for low- and moderate-income families served by DCHA, expanded the number of families affordably housed via federal and local vouchers and oversaw 12 concurrent large redevelopment efforts with the goal of preserving the stock of low-income units and increasing the supply of units available to a range of household incomes.

She also served as a legislative director in then-Congressman Ron de Lugo’s office.

Todman serves on the Brookings Institution’s “Health and Economic Mobility” policy group and the Urban Institute’s “Renters and Rental Market Crisis” working group, and she is a trustee on the board of Smith College, where she is an alumnus and member of the faculty.

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Puerto Rico To Get Billions For Hurricane Aid, Reconstruction

SAN JUAN (AP) — Puerto Rico is slated to receive more than $6 billion in federal funds to help it prepare for future hurricanes and other disasters, officials said Tuesday.

The money assigned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would be used for infrastructure projects and economic development, among other things, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said.

In addition, Puerto Rico now has access to $3.2 billion to continue rebuilding from hurricanes Irma and Maria, said Pierluisi, who praised the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden for acting quickly.

Congress had assigned $67 billion to help with reconstruction efforts after the hurricanes devastated the island in September 2017, but of the $43 billion obligated, Puerto Rico has only received $18 billion amid concerns over how the money would be spent.

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VIHA Survey Seeks Info From Landlords To Expand Affordable Housing Options

FREDERIKSTED — As rents continue to outstrip the average family’s income, the Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) is surveying private landlords to help improve a program that could increase the territory’s affordable housing supply.  

Through September 4, the HCVP Landlords Survey is inviting landlords to share their experiences and concerns about the Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8.   

The federally funded program provides rent assistance in the form of vouchers to almost 2,000 Virgin Islanders who could not otherwise afford to live in market-rate housing. Thousands more are waiting in line because of a high demand for affordable housing, according to VIHA Executive Director Robert Graham.   

“With a voucher to help with rent payments, families earning lower wages could theoretically afford to live almost anywhere in the territory,” Graham said.  

But the Housing Choice Voucher program relies heavily on landlords to accept families with vouchers, Graham noted.   

Feedback from the survey will be used to strengthen the program’s appeal and attract more landlords.   

The VIHA initiative parallels efforts at the federal level to encourage more private-market landlords to participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program. 

The need could not be greater as communities across the country face affordable housing crises made worse by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Rents in the Virgin Islands have more than doubled since the hurricanes of 2017, according to a HUD report, while the estimated median household income fell 16 percent to $31,000. (The report doesn’t take into account the effects of COVID-19.) Nationwide, the median household income rose nine percent from 2017 to to $63,179, according to the Census Bureau.  

Families should spend no more than 30 to 40 percent of their income on rent, experts agree. This means the average Virgin Islander can afford $775 to $1,000 a month for housing.  Zillow and Realtor.com recently listed only a handful in the entire Territory in that price range.    

“A voucher not only gives the family more purchasing power to afford private sector apartments,” Graham said, “it also gives the landlord more financial security in today’s pandemic economy.” 

Ninety-nine percent of landlords who accept vouchers from VIHA  receive rent payments on the first of the month via paper check or direct bank deposit. 

“While we think we know the primary issues facing landlords, we are anxious to hear directly from them,” said the program’s director, Akala Anthony.   

“Our objective with this survey is to understand landlords’ perceptions and misperceptions about the program and seek to make the necessary improvements,” Anthony said.  

VIHA also supports the EnVision grants offered by the Virgin Islands Finance Authority and encourages landlords to apply in order to rehabilitate their storm-damaged units. The grants offer property owners $50,000 toward the repair of each unit, provided it is used as a year-round rental for low- to moderate-income tenants for a set period.   

“The EnVision program is a godsend for affordable housing because it will increase the number of private sector apartments available to families,” Graham said. “We will do everything possible to match landlords with eligible families, as all of our participants meet the low- to moderate income requirements.”  

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U.S. Attorney’s Office Announces Online Training Seminar for USVI Grantees

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced today that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General (HUD-OIG) will provide no cost, online training for Virgin Islands federal grantees and law enforcement personnel, July 13-15th.

The three-day training session is designed for HUD Community Development and Block Grant-Disaster Recovery grantees, sub-grantees, contractors and law enforcement agencies.

Following the 2017 hurricanes, HUD allocated nearly $ 2 billion dollars to the Virgin Islands for disaster recovery.

Much of this money has been distributed through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Program, which addresses seriously damaged housing, businesses and infrastructure repairs.

The HUD-OIG sponsored training will highlight HUD’s disaster assistance program requirements and risks, as well as familiarize Virgin Islands’ grant personnel and members of the law enforcement community with issues related to disaster fraud investigations.

The training will include presentations about various HUD programs, common audit findings, and procurement issues.

“Investigation and prosecution of government programs fraud and procurement fraud continue to be priorities of this U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Shappert said. “The people of the Virgin Islands have every right to expect that fraudsters and scam artists will suffer the consequences of their criminal actions. We are grateful that HUD-OIG has agreed to provide this valuable training in the USVI.”

To report suspected fraud in one of HUD’s Disaster Recovery programs, email HUD’s Office of the Inspector General at hotline@hudoig.gov, or contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721.

Persons interested in participating in the July 13-15, 2020 on-line training should contact HUD-OIG, Special Agent in Charge, Lisa Gore at LGore@hudoig.gov