By JON PEREZ
The CNMI agency that’s primarily responsible for housing in the Northern Marianas, the Northern Marianas Housing Corp., is working to ease any housing issues on the island, especially after Super Typhoon Yutu.
NMHC director Jesse Palacios assured that the agency has been assisting residents who are eligible to avail of the housing programs by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Palacios said that NMHC deputy director Jeannie Mafnas is coordinating with FEMA to help families affected by Yutu to get back to their daily routine prior to the devastation of the super typhoon.
“She’s actually attending the town hall meetings that will help eligible families that were invited. These are families that experienced major damage in their homes and are eligible for new construction,” Palacios told Saipan Tribune.
“We’re just helping them [FEMA] out since we’re the only housing agency on the island. So, we’re coordinating all the things with them.
“We’re helping some of the locals here. We’re…representing them. Some residents here are shy. When you put them in a big gathering, they are not going to ask questions. They are going to go through us where they ask us that if it’s true they are going to have a new house and if it is free.”
With the help of the U.S. military, FEMA earlier funded a roofing program and helped repair or re-install roofs in more than 600 homes on Saipan and Tinian. They recently introduced a new program where they would build typhoon-resilient homes for eligible families.
“They [FEMA] are also targeting homes that are still in need of roof repair. Also, from my understanding [building of new typhoon-resilient homes] is free. The only issue is when are you going to have the house. These are their [FEMA] programs,” added Palacios.
He said that housing has been an issue on the island even before Super Typhoon Yutu. “We opened up our waiting list for Section 8. And, in…a short time, we already have up to 520 families that have registered.”
“Our maximum is 500 so we have to close the waiting list again, so we can start purging the list of the people who are there,” added Palacios.
Section 8 under the Housing Act of 1937 assists low-income households with rental housing by authorizing payments to private landlords. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development manages Section 8 programs like the Housing Choice Voucher.
Palacios added that HUD’s program is not only reserved for rental assistance but also for individuals who want to build homes. However, there’s currently a shortage of laborers for the construction trades that is affecting several projects on Saipan.
“The shortage is coming from the lack of contractors. We have put together some of our contractors that we can, then find out from them what is the true cost of building a house. Because they tell us that our maximum loan amount is not enough, so that’s why they won’t come to us and submit proposals for the borrowers,” said Palacios.
The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit is another one of HUD’s programs. The Isa Villas on Capital Hill is one of these projects; it is about to be completed. It set to open by the end of April.
“This one [Isa Villas] would provide 27 units as part of the Phase 1. Overall, with Phase 2, it will be over 100 units. …We also have another one in Gualo Rai, a four story 44-unit tax credit project that’s going to open in summer this year,” said Palacios.
“Behind Triple J is another tax credit project. We have three that are under construction and two will open up this year. That’s about 71 additional units that can be rented this year.”