BY IVA MAURIN
CAPITOL HILL, Saipan — An additional $10 million has been made available for the Northern Mariana Islands by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on top of the $244 million HUD approved for the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery action plan.
The grant, the largest federal aid in the history of the Commonwealth, will help address the recovery needs of the NMI following the back-to-back devastation brought by super typhoon Yutu and typhoon Mangkhut in 2018.
On Nov. 24, HUD originally approved the grant agreements which effectively allocated $243,946,000 in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Funds to the NMI.
Jesse S. Palacios, corporate director of the Northern Marianas Housing Corp., updated the Journal on planning for the grant, as well as the changes that transpired given the additional $10.38 million in supplemental funding, making the allocation now worth $254,324,000.
According to Palacios, since HUD’s approval of the grant agreement, NMHC has sought and obtained its board’s approval of draft policies and procedures related to the following CDBG-DR Programs: 1. Housing; 2. Infrastructure; and 3. Economic Development.
In January, the housing corporation launched two of those programs — the Homeowner Rehabilitation and Reconstruction program, and the Single-Family homebuyer/New Construction Development program. A third one, the Affordable Rental Housing Development program, will be rolled out soon, Palacios said.
The supplemental $10 million funding provided for an additional $9.86 million to NMHC’s Housing Programs — equally divided into the three; as well as an additional $518,900 to cover administrative expenses.
“Expenditures of CDBG-DR funds are subject to NMHC’s procurement regulations and since our agency administers its own procurement system, the process should be quick,” Palacios said. As to the interest of construction companies, Palacios said that that has yet to be seen.
“NMHC must publish Competitive Sealed Bids or “IFBs” to determine the actual number of interested contractors. It is worth noting that our agency has a pool of approved contractors that have already been vetted,” he said.
According to Palacios, housing locations will depend on the Housing Program Type. He said, “With New Construction, First Time Homeowner, there is no direct storm tieback.” This means, he said, “Loan proceeds may be used to purchase/lease properties and to build new homes on these properties.”
The purchase of properties will be based on prevailing appraised value, he said.
“Conversely, with Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, there is a storm tieback requirement and repairs will occur on the existing properties of eligible applicants/borrowers. To keep homes affordable, safe, decent, and sanitary, NMHC will be preparing designs for eligible borrowers to choose from.”
The NMHC recently announced the availability of the CDBG-DR Housing Programs for eligible residents, with an emphasis that applications by elderly and/or disabled persons who were displaced by the storms are to be prioritized. Loan amount for the Rehabilitation and Construction program starts at $10,000, and for the Homebuyer Program, from $1,000 up to $250,000.
In addition to housing programs, $105,881,835 is also allocated for infrastructure programs, which include the restoration and improvement of port facilities, public facilities such as community centers, and of roads and utilities. Moreover, $8,650,000 is allocated for economic development.
Palacios also confirmed that a part of the grant will be used to promote and market the NMI, given that the islands heavily rely on tourism for its own economy.
“As for the MVA appropriation, HUD granted the CNMI’s request for a Tourism and Business Marketing waiver. HUD required the CNMI (through NMHC) to draft tourism policies and procedures which have been reviewed by HUD and have provided feedback and recommendations.”
Those regulations are in preparation, he said. “NMHC is finalizing the policies and procedures and working with MVA so that MVA can use the funds to promote and market the CNMI.”
Based on the CDBG-DR Action Plan, through the waiver approval, the NMI is planning to allocate $7.5 million for marketing and promotional activities, to create a global branding that would highlight the unity and diversity of the 14 islands in the NMI and establish the commonwealth’s identity as an ‘alluring and desirable island resort destination’ for the travel community.
Aside from the programs, Palacios told the Journal that NMHC was able to hire the necessary staff and secure adequate office space for its CDBG-DR Division through the allocation.
HUD also approved the NMHC CDBG-DR Program’s Disaster Recovery Grant Reporting System Action Plan required for fund disbursements.
Palacios said the NMHC is ensuring that the community stays updated with its plans and programs through updates via press releases, announcements on local radio stations, and other media outlets, and through social media.
NMHC staff also visited Tinian in February to provide the community with updates on the housing programs. A visit to Rota will be scheduled sometime in March.
For updates, visit NMHC’s Facebook page at
www.facebook.com/cnminmhc or the CDBG-DR website