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Housing Finance Authority Growing, Senators Want Results

Daryl Griffith testifies virtually to the Senate Finance Committee Monday. (Image from V.I. Legislature video stream)

Daryl Griffith, executive director of the Housing Finance Authority, touted the growth of the authority at the Finance Committee hearing Monday.

He said staffing was 35 in 2018 and is now 105. He added that he plans to increase the staff to around 200.

As for revenue, he said the authority was once a small agency handling $10 million but has grown to where it handles half a billion dollars.

Some senators were more interested in projects being completed than the authority’s growth. Sens. Donna Frett-Gregory and Dwayne DeGraff questioned Griffith about work that needed to be done at the Herbert Grigg Home and Queen Louise Home.

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Griffith told DeGraff that plans submitted to renovate the homes for the elderly cost well over $15 million allocated to them and the Department of Human Services was told to go back to the drawing board.

Frett-Gregory questioned why, if there were so many funds available, something could not be done to move such projects instead of throwing them back into a process that can be quite lengthy.

Sen. Carla Joseph wanted to know what was being done for residents who live in homes on Hospital Ground. The homes had been originally designated as emergency housing but some of the houses have been occupied for over 25 years. Griffith said the plan was to build new houses for those residents and demolish the ones they were now living in. He said that would be done in 2025. Joseph said residents were living in hurricane-damaged houses now. Griffith said there were plans to do some repairs, but the authority did not want to invest much in houses it planned to demolish.

According to the Post Audit report, the Housing Finance Authority’s projected upcoming 2022 budget is $39.3 million, $2 million of which is to be appropriated from the General Fund. Of that appropriation, $1.3 million is allocated to personnel services and $707,000 for fringe benefits.

Sen. Kurt Vialet asked why the Water and Power Authority, which always seem short of money, had not dipped into the $67 million grant it had obtained through the Housing Authority.

Vialet had more questions about WAPA when Austin Nibbs, administer of the Government Employees’ Retirement System, also testified at Monday’s hearing. Nibbs said that WAPA was the only government agency behind in paying its employer and employee contributions to GERS.

Vialet said that WAPA was collecting the highest base rate for a utility in the nation, yet it was not paying any of its bills. He said the government needed to investigate where all the money WAPA collected was going.

Nibbs had nothing new to tell the senators. He testified that the lack of various government payments had caused the system to decline precipitously and it would become insolvent in 2023 unless it received a large infusion of cash.

According to the Post Audit report, GERS has 75 employees costing $4.9 million. The System’s Board of Trustees has not yet approved the budget for the upcoming year.

Nibbs, who announced his intention to retire this summer, told the senators that at the request of the trustees, he had agreed to stay on until the end of the year.

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