BY IVA MAURIN
GARAPAN, Saipan —There is a 12.3% decrease in the total housing units in the Northern Mariana Islands, based on the latest Census — from 20,850 units in 2010 to 18,290 in 2020. The population also decreased by 12.2%, from 53,883 in 2010 to 47,329 in 2020.
This drop in both housing numbers and population within the 10-year period is not a total surprise, Jesse S. Palacios, director of the Northern Marianas Housing Corp. told the Journal, due to economic and natural events factors. The island was hit by two super typhoons in 2015 and 2018, and now, the pandemic.
However, Palacios said, “The current needs in terms of housing is just the opposite.”
Post-typhoon construction and repairs, Palacios said that in Saipan, especially in the south, housing construction projects by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are still either underway, or sites are cleared for construction.
The NMHC also provides low to moderate income family households with their housing needs through homeownership or through rental assistance, administering housing and community development grants, as well as other types of assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the USDA Rural Development, Veteran’s Affairs, and the Internal Revenue Service, through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.
From January to November, more than 4,000 individuals visited the NMHC’s offices in Saipan, Tinian, and Rota to pick up pre-qualification application forms for housing programs under the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery. Approximately 1,700 submitted the applications.
Palacios said his office interviewed and provided the actual home load applications to about 1,300 applicants.
About 750 loan packets were submitted and as of now, the NMHC has approved approximately 360 loans. 80% of the loan applications or loan approvals are for new construction or homebuyers, while the remaining 20% are for typhoon Mangkhut or super typhoon Yutu repairs or reconstruction.
The NMHC already has more than 70 approved applicants on the waiting list, and has a $42 million projected net budget for the ‘new construction and homebuyer’ program. With about $37 million projected net budget for the ‘repairs and reconstruction’ program, NMHC still has room to approve more than 100 applicants eligible and qualified to fix or reconstruct their homes.
“The grants that we receive are for the people and the community and these grants have to be committed and expended and we do not want to return any of these funds to the grantor agency. The NMHC board, management and staff are professionals and dedicated to their work. We strive to assist you with your housing needs,” Palacios said.
In related news, HUD also recently approved the green building standards proposed by NMHC, given that adopting other jurisdiction’s set of green building standards is not feasible, as those would not fit the NMI’s housing program requirements and conditions, Palacios said.
“Aside from the 2018 IBC and IRC local compliance, HUD required the CNMI to incorporate green building standards for our new construction and rehabilitation projects. In addition to this, the CNMI mostly utilizes one primary build method, which is concrete therefore eliminating many aspects of the traditional items outlined in the various green building standards.”
Contractors who want to build CDBG-DR funded homes must be on the NMHC’s approved list.
“Nothing brings greater joy to NMHC than to see a family move into a new home or repair their home. We want families to live in safe, decent, and sanitary homes. Just because you are low income doesn’t mean that you have to be subjected to substandard housing,” Palacios said.
For more information on the CDBG-DR program, contact the NMHC Office at (670) 234-6866 or visit https://cnmi-cdbgdr.com. mbj