STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT DURING THE FIFTH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS ON THURSDAY 20TH FEBRUARY, 2020 AT THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY ROAD TOWN, TORTOLA
UPDATE ON HOUSING RECOVERY ASSISTANCE PROGRAMME
Mister Speaker, everyone would be aware that the catastrophic hurricanes of 2017, namely Irma & Maria exacted billions of dollars in damages to public and private infrastructures, buildings and livelihoods -- the effects of which the BVI and other regional Island-Nations are still experiencing. It is human to admire the billions of dollars that were PLEDGED IN GRANTS (NOT LOANS) to our neighbors to the West and to the South.
Mister Speaker, the BVI is extremely grateful for the housing grant assistance provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the funding granted through the Recovery and Development Agency by UNITE-BVI for the construction of temporary housing units and for the voluntary works contributed and undertaken by local, regional and international philanthropists and non-profit organisations of whom the Territory MUST formally acknowledge and recognise.
Mister Speaker, although reported on previously, I am pleased to present an update on the support being provided by the Government of the Virgin Islands to vulnerable households whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the 2017 hurricanes.
A total of Five Hundred and Sixty-two (562) completed applications were received under the Housing Recovery Assistance Programme since its inception in 2018, Four Hundred and Forty-seven (447) of which met the eligibility criteria.
To date, Two Hundred and Nine (209) beneficiaries have been approved to receive housing assistance in the form of grants, low-interest loans, or social housing from funding provided by the Government, and an additional Twenty-five (25) homes were repaired through a short-term programme sponsored by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
As of Friday, 14 February 2020, a total of Nine Million, Five Hundred Ninety-five Thousand, One Hundred Seventy-five dollars and Ninety-nine cents ($9,595,175.99) has been committed in home repair grants; representing 91% of the funds apportioned for this purpose. Another Three Million dollars ($3M) has been allocated for Social Housing, which is sufficient to build a total of twenty-three (23) homes. Further to that, Mister Speaker, six (6) persons have been recommended for low-interest loans to be administered by the National Bank of the Virgin Islands at a total value of Four Hundred Sixty Thousand dollars ($460,000.00).
Mister Speaker, as I have previously stated in this Honourable House, the Housing Recovery Assistance Programme was modified in April 2019 to give priority to making homes watertight or weather-sealed through the installation of roofs, windows and doors, together with essential electrical and plumbing works. The Ministry is also now charged with the direct hiring and supervision of contractors on behalf of each beneficiary, rather than the issuance of monetary grants to homeowners to engage qualified contractors on their own, as was previously the case. In order to meet this additional responsibility, the Ministry has engaged the services of local architects, engineers and quantity surveyors to support the work of the Housing Recovery team. Since May 2019, eighty-one (81) beneficiaries have been approved to receive assistance under the revised Programme through direct engagement of contractors for materials and labour.
In addition to that, Mister Speaker, the Ministry of Health and Social Development provides temporary housing, building materials grants, and rent assistance to help meet the housing needs of qualifying households. With respect to temporary housing, the Recovery and Development Agency (RDA) assisted the Ministry to provide support to several households that were displaced by the hurricanes of 2017. The RDA’s total budget for temporary housing was $450,000.00 broken down as follows:
- Government’s contribution = $276,000
- Private donations = $174,000 ($150,000 donated by Unite BVI and the balance was received from a private donor).
Mister Speaker, a total of eleven (11) beneficiaries received assistance through this temporary home initiative. Four (4) beneficiaries received new temporary structures, while the remaining seven (7) beneficiaries received upgrades to existing temporary homes.
Furthermore, Mister Speaker, in an effort to expand and expedite our response to homeowners who are able to meet their own labour costs, but require some assistance in purchasing much needed supplies; funding was provided in the Budget Estimates for building material grants. To this end Mister Speaker, a total of 40 applicants benefited from this initiative to the tune of Two Hundred and Ten Thousand, Eight Hundred and Eighteen dollars and Fifty-eight cents ($210,818.58) between November and December 2019. So far this year, Sixty-nine (69) applicants have been approved at a total sum of Four Hundred Thirty-four Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty dollars and Eleven cents ($434,730.11). Mister Speaker, this allows us to provide immediate relief to affected households that could use a helping hand to purchase small quantities of building materials from local suppliers.
In closing, I again place on record my commendations to the team of Public Officers across several Ministries and Departments, contractors and other partners for their diligent efforts in responding to complex challenges as we work to bring housing relief to vulnerable families.
Mister Speaker, two and a half years later, 30 months later, there remains a great deal of work to be done; there remains a large sum of money required to complete our task. This Government will continue to assist in every way legal and financially possible. It grieves each of our hearts to visit and to witness the hurt and pains of our brothers and sisters who are shifting in their bedrooms to avoid getting wet every single time it rains - our brothers and sisters who are displaced from their homes or shelters with no immediate solutions in sight.
Mister Speaker, with GOD’s Grace and Mercy, we will see this through.
Thank you, Mister Speaker.