Legislature Corner: Blyden Urges VIHFA to Expedite Emergency Rental Assistance

Sen. Marvin A. Blyden (Submitted photo)

Sen. Marvin A. Blyden has called upon the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) Executive Director Daryl Griffith to make haste in dispersing necessary funds to applicants of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which officially launched in March of this year.

Over the past few months, the U.S. Department of Treasury has loosened restrictions regarding the funding, and the senator has yet to see accompanying changes to the requirements and regulations of the local rental assistance program, and he notes that this delay can have a catastrophic effect on both tenants and landlords in the territory.

Sen. Blyden first advised the VIHFA of changes that were made to the program on the federal level at a July 8th Committee on Housing, Transportation and Telecommunications hearing. The U.S. Treasury had recently announced that a second round of funding was being made available, and it would allow for additional uses like temporary housing costs to include hotel stays, and court mediation between landlords and tenants.

The federal department also announced that requirements would be loosened to ensure that those without leases could benefit from the program. Since then, Blyden’s office has been inundated with calls from concerned constituents who, despite having applied for the program months ago, have yet to receive any notice that they would be receiving funds.

Since that hearing, a series of other changes to Emergency Rental Assistance and solutions to housing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been announced. The CDC issued an extended eviction moratorium until Oct. 3, 2021 (partly due to the acknowledged delays in getting ERAP funding out to eligible applicants), and the U.S. Treasury announced that it has called on all state and local governments operating Emergency Rental Assistance programs to eliminate undue documentation burdens to expedite the delivery of assistance to persons in need.

“Excessive documentation requirements in areas such as income verification, COVID-19 related hardships, housing stability and back rent owed work against the purposes of the program, particularly as it is the most vulnerable populations that often experience the most difficulties in obtaining such documentation,” said Blyden.

Additionally, in April of this year, Governor Bryan announced that the Virgin Islands had been awarded $8.5 million in federal dollars from the Homeowners Assistance Fund, which is designed to help homeowners who are experiencing difficulties paying their mortgages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have since heard no announcements from VIHFA regarding the program, nor have I seen any information on the agency’s website. As such, especially considering the plight of homeowners who are anxiously waiting for payments from the ERAP program, I am inquiring to seek a status report on the implementation of this program, including a projected timeline for program start-up and the status of your efforts to prepare the required Homeowners Assistance Fund Plan that must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Treasury,” said Blyden.

“I urge you, in the strongest manner possible, to address these issues without delay, as doing so will not only speed up and simplify the process for our frustrated and apprehensive tenants and landlords, but it will ease the administrative burden on the Housing Finance Authority,” said Blyden.

Blyden invites the community to email his office at senatorblyden@legvi.org, call his office at 693-3567 or send a message to his Facebook page for more information about his efforts.