The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has approved the CNMI’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery action plan that will bring in $244 million to meet the unfulfilled recovery needs of the Commonwealth after two typhoons in 2018.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, through the Northern Marianas Housing Corp., announced last Oct. 16 that HUD approved the action plan that will help fix infrastructure, houses, buildings, etc., after the devastation of Super Typhoon Yutu and Typhoon Mangkhut.
According to NMHC corporate director Jesse S. Palacios, this grant alone—totaling $244 million—is the largest federal aid in the history of the Commonwealth and also the first time for the CNMI to receive CDBG-DR aid.
A statement from the Office of the Governor said that it was notified early Friday morning that HUD had emailed NMHC that the CDBG-DR action plan had been approved by HUD headquarters and sent the grant agreement for Torres’ signature and execution.
Torres said the action plan went through many revisions over the last two years, long hours, and a lot of hard work. He thanked NMHC officials and its staff, as well as legislative leaders, and Executive Branch officials for ensuring that the CNMI’s needs are addressed after the two typhoons.
“This is a great win for the CNMI as we continue to build a stronger Marianas,” said Torres.
Palacios said that typhoon recovery has been at the top of NMHC’s priorities. “We did our due diligence to make sure we fulfilled all the requirements of this grant and that our priority projects fit the criteria set forth by HUD,” said Palacios. “A lot of projects will see groundbreaking very soon, and we look forward to progressing with our recovery.”
According to the Office of the Governor statement, HUD has 45 days from the date NMHC submitted the action plan for it to approve or disapprove the plan. Palacios partly credits the approval of the CNMI’s action plan to the continued support of the Torres-Palacios administration and NMHC’s board of directors “as it truly enhances the process in our agency’s efforts in bringing in $244 million in CDBG-DR funds.”
He noted that part of the grant will be used to promote and market the CNMI, since the Marianas Visitors Authority is not earning any revenue from the hotel occupancy tax as there is little to no tourism going on. Palacios stated in an interview that they asked HUD to allow the use of about $10 million of the grant for this purpose and that HUD approved it. Even if promotions and marketing isn’t an eligible activity, Palacios said that HUD understands that the CNMI relies on tourism, so they allowed this activity to be approved.
Palacios said that this grant will also be used for the matching needs of the CNMI, which will allow it to tap other grants. For example, if Federal Emergency Management Agency projects require a 10% match, the grant money can be used to put up the matching funds required. This will also help local funds as the CNMI wouldn’t have to put in local money for that purpose, he added.
According to the Office of the Governor’s statement, NMHC began work on the CDBG-DR action plan in February 2019. With the draft undergoing many revisions, and additions to adapt to newer priorities that fit the grant’s criteria, NMHC identified a list of community priorities and projects that would address several unmet needs such as housing, infrastructure, and economic recovery. On Aug. 31, 2020, NMHC officially submitted the CDBG-DR action plan to HUD for review and approve.
The following is the breakdown of the DR funds:
Homeowner Rehabilitation & Reconstruction: $36,120,667
Single Family New Construction Development: $41,120,667
Affordable Rental Housing Development: $36,120,667
Housing Total: $113,362,000
Port Facilities: $4,000,000
Public Facilities: $56,881,508
Infrastructure Total: $105,881,835
Economic Development Total: $8,660,000
Administration costs: $12,098,818
Total Allocation $243,946,000