CNMI soon to launch $244 million worth of disaster-recovery projects
Saipan-- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved the CNMI’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Action Plan, which would bring in $244 million to address unmet recovery needs of the CNMI following Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu, according to the Office of the CNMI Governor.
“A lot of long hours, and hard work went into this action plan, which had to undergo several revisions over the course of the last two years to ensure priority projects were identified for our community," CNMI Ralph Torres said.
Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios said, "A lot of projects will see groundbreakings very soon, and we look forward to progressing within our recovery.”
Palacios said typhoon recovery has been at the top of the government's priorities since taking office in 2019.
"Together with NMHC, 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. This is a huge accomplishment for our community, and it is because of the hard work and collaboration of federal and local partners coming together for our people," Palacios said.
In February 2019, NMHC began work on the action plan in consultation with the Torres-Palacios administration. Together with executive departments and agencies, NMHC began identifying a list of community priorities and projects that would address several unmet needs such as housing, infrastructure and economic recovery.
The draft action plan underwent numerous revisions and additions to accommodate new priorities that fit the grant’s criteria. Torres, Palacios and the NMHC Board of Directors signed off on HUD-required financial certifications and forms. On Aug. 31, NMHC officially submitted the CDBG-DR Action Plan to HUD for review and approval.
“NMHC is very fortunate to have the continued support of the Torres-Palacios administration and our Board of Directors as it truly enhances the process in our agency’s efforts in bringing in $244 million in CDBG-DR funds needed to address the unmet recovery needs of the CNMI and following the onslaught of Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu. This I believe is the largest federal aid in the history of our Commonwealth and also, the first time for the CNMI to receive CDBG-DR aid,” said NMHC Corporate Director Jesse S. Palacios.
Per the federal register notice, HUD has 45 days from the date NMHC submitted the Action Plan to approve or disapprove the said plan.
“Governor Torres and Lt. Governor Palacios understood the urgency of injecting CDBG-DR aid into the CNMI to help low- to moderate-income families rebuild their homes, address public infrastructure unmet needs, and revitalize our economy. Part of this aid is providing DR funds to the Marianas Visitors Authority for destination marketing and promotion activities. Tourism is our primary economic driver which is why NMHC sought for a tourism waiver from HUD. Funding for tourism is generally not an eligible activity," Corporate Director Palacios said.
He said NMHC has been in constant communication with the administration sharing updates with the governor, lt. governor and Board of Directors and seeking local support be it in the form of a line of credit from CDA needed to address pre-disaster recovery activities, which include hiring staff for program implementation and designation of public lands for construction of new homes that will be financed by the HUD funds.
Following the submission of the action plan, NMHC’s CDBG-DR team, led by the agency’s Corporate Director and Deputy Corporate Director, have been in constant communication with its HUD Honolulu and San Francisco offices reviewing the action plan and improving certain sections. Just a few days before final transmittal of the said plan to HUD Headquarters in D.C., NMHC received recommendations for approval from the HUD San Francisco Field Office and from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Office of Policy Development and Research which reviewed the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity aspects of the CNMI’s CDBG-DR Action Plan.
On the early morning of Oct. 16, HUD notified NMHC via email that the action plan was approved by HUD Headquarters and aptly sent the grant agreement for the Governor’s signature and execution.
“Lt. Governor Palacios and I have already instructed our departments and agencies to support NMHC and to prioritize the execution of these projects. We will be implementing a whole-of-government approach for our recovery to make sure our islands are stronger and more resilient against future disasters,” Torres said.