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Senator Seeks Churches as Partners to Build Homes

Aug. 6, 2004 – In a move to broaden the scope of his homeownership program, Sen. Emmett Hansen II is reaching out to churches as potential partners. He has invited a panel of national experts in faith-based housing initiatives to address local religious leaders.
In free seminars Aug. 16 on St. Thomas and Aug. 17 and 18 on St. Croix, the three resource persons will explain to the church leaders how they can turn unused land into a valuable asset and provide housing for their congregation members in the process.
Hansen's Homeownership Act of 2004 calls for the construction of 2,500 homes in five years, at the rate of 500 per year — 350 on St. Croix, 100 on St. Thomas and 50 on St. John. They would sell for between $60,000 and $180,00, with the average price being $120,000. The homes would be available to first-time buyers and people who have lost their residences through foreclosure or divorce in the last seven years and who have been V.I. residents for at least five years.
The legislation was passed by the Senate last month and is sitting on Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's desk awaiting action.
"Through the Homeownership Act, the V.I. government has committed to building homes," Hansen said on Friday. "With the federal money and grants available to faith-based entities, the churches can easily match the number of homes the government is proposing to build."
According to Hansen, many churches have land holdings that were deeded to their congregations or that they have owned without using for many years. "The land has been lying fallow, like some government land, for decades, rather than being put to use to provide for members of their congregation," he said.
"Whether a church decides to utilize the land for homeownership is a decision that must be made by the church leadership," he said. "I can't make that decision for them. But what I can do is ensure that they have all the information they need in order to have the opportunity to put their people in their own homes."
Providing that information will be experts from the federal government and the private sector – Marvelette Fenner Hunter, Marvin J. Owens and Edgar Rodríguez-Méndez.
Hunter is an architect and planner. She is the executive director of the Houston-based Dominion Community Development Corp., providing leadership in a $60 million planned development. She is the author of the "Fannie Mae Faith-based Initiative Resource Guide."
Owens is the National Urban League's vice president for economic development and housing. Managing a $4 million budget, he oversees housing counseling, affordable housing development and economic development efforts in more than 80 cities.
Rodríguez-Méndez is the faith-based and community initiatives liaison with the Caribbean area field office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Puerto Rico. He has been director of administration for the Commercial Development Co. of Puerto Rico and management services coordinator of the San Juan municipal government. He is an adjunct professor of management at the University of Puerto Rico.
"We've got all the expertise that we need in order to get all of the information out to the churches," Hansen said.
Earlier this year, Hansen organized two-day Urban Revitalization Homeownership Fairs in both districts that featured presentations by off-island experts in their fields including HUD Assistant Secretary Roy A. Bernardi. (See "Two-day Programs Focus on Home Ownership".)
The coming St. Thomas presentation will be held on Aug. 16 at the University of the Virgin Islands Small Business Development Center offices at Nisky Center.
The two St. Croix seminars will take place on Aug. 17 and 18 the UVI Small Business Development Center facilities at Sunshine Mall.
All run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are open to the public. For more information, call Hansen's office at 712-2210.

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