Outside Contractor Helping Clear Rental Assistance Backlog

V.I. Housing Finance Authority acting Executive Director Dayna Clendinen testifies on the emergency rental assistance backlog. (Photo: Screenshot from V.I. Legislature livestream broadcast)

People in need of help paying their rent, many waiting months for assistance, could soon get much-needed checks, officials said Tuesday. An outside vendor has been hired to address the backlog.

The Housing Finance Authority has set itself a goal of clearing 266 requests for emergency rental assistance by Aug. 5, acting Executive Director Dayna Clendinen told the Legislature’s Committee on Housing, Transportation, and Telecommunications.

“That’s unprecedented,” Clendinen said.

Since the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program started in March 2021, the Authority has sent close to $4 million in direct or indirect assistance to 479 U.S. Virgin Islands renters, she said. Of the $21.3 million allocated, more than $19 million remains and needs to be spent by December 2026.

Existing staff at the Authority weren’t able to keep up with demand, Clendinen said. Six or seven people processing hundreds of applications and recruitment efforts fell short. The Authority is in “desperate need of accountants,” she said and was working on innovative employee recruitment and retention efforts.

“We do not have the bodies internally to make it happen as expeditiously as possible,” she told senators. “If you want to serve, we have a number of positions on our website. Please apply.”

The Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based project management company Plexos Group was brought in to help move the process along quickly, Clendinen said. Plexos beat out eight other applicants for the one-year contract.

Working with subcontractors, private firms like Plexos have the bodies and flexibility to work nights and weekends that government agencies lack, she said.

The Authority will be back before the Senate on Aug. 2 to discuss their budget.

Sen. Janelle Sarauw suggested the Authority could do more to help make abandoned and derelict properties livable again. Given the limited land available, buying undeveloped space and building a new structure on it is not a reasonable long-term plan, she said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Marvin Blyden said there was a lot of work to be done. Clendinen agreed.

“I’d like to thank all the men and women of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority for what they do every single day. As you stated, it is a lot. They do have a tremendous amount on their plate,” she said.