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HUD Allocates $1.5 Million for HIV/AIDS Housing Initiatives in the U.S. Virgin Islands

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Character, home sweet home, hang on front door of house. Real estate agent offer house, property insurance and security, affordable housing concepts

In a significant initiative aimed at enhancing housing options for individuals impacted by HIV/AIDS in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of HIV/AIDS Housing has granted $1,510,082 to a local non-profit organization, Meeting the Needs of Our Community Inc.

This financial backing is a segment of the broader Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Renewal and Replacement Grant. This disbursement is part of an expansive plan that allocates almost $30 million across the United States. These funds assist in various housing-related endeavors, including tenant-oriented rental aid, supportive services, and other essential housing activities. The current announcement serves as the first of two planned rounds of grant allocations.

Speaking on the matter, HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge articulated the critical importance of this funding, stating, “Secure, consistent, and affordable housing is a vital factor in determining health outcomes.” She continued by emphasizing HUD’s commitment to eradicating prejudice against HIV-affected individuals, expanding the availability of specialized housing and services, and, crucially, mitigating the stigma associated with the ailment.

Deputy Regional Administrator Tiffany Cobb offered insights into the broader societal issues confronting those with HIV. She highlighted that the existing grant aims to “guarantee not only the availability of safe and economical housing but also access to indispensable resources and services for those living with HIV in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Numerous studies validate the essential role that stable housing plays in the wellness of individuals living with HIV. Stable living conditions contribute to improved health metrics, including effective viral control. It is noteworthy that when the viral load is untraceable, transmission risks drop to zero. Apart from offering housing solutions, the grant funding will facilitate access to crucial services, including case management, mental health support, prevention of substance abuse, and job skill training. This blend of housing and supportive services is instrumental in promoting residential stability, bettering health outcomes, and enhancing the quality of life. It also helps those prepared to transition to the private housing sector.

Since launching in 1992, HUD’s HOPWA Program has been a national cornerstone, delivering essential resources that have significantly impacted the development and management of top-quality supportive housing programs. Through the HOPWA initiative, HUD extends financial support to municipalities, states, and not-for-profit organizations, empowering them to offer housing aid and essential services to low-income individuals and families affected by HIV. With its primary mission of providing stable housing, ensuring consistent medical treatment, and aiding complex therapy plans, the HOPWA program exemplifies HUD’s enduring commitment. For more information on the HOPWA program, visit HUD Exchange.

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Property Managers Face New Licensing Rules in Virgin Islands Real Estate Overhaul

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Significant changes are on the horizon for the Virgin Islands’ real estate industry, which has remained largely untouched since 1968. Senator Novelle Francis announced on Monday his intention to modernize the sector with the introduction of Bill 35-0193, aimed at closing legislative gaps that have allowed for financial exploitation to the detriment of the local community.

Senator Francis noted that the outdated laws have led to the industry being perceived as a “wild wild west where anything goes.” The proposed bill seeks to enhance consumer protection through new definitions, licensing requirements, continuing education mandates, and disclosure obligations, thereby bolstering the regulatory role of the Real Estate Commission.

A key feature of Bill 35-0193 is the new requirement for property managers to obtain a property management license. Laurent Alfred, chair of the Virgin Islands Real Estate Commission and a drafter of the bill, emphasized that property managers have long operated without adequate oversight, causing public confusion. Developing the new property manager exam is projected to cost around $92,000.

The legislation also lowers the minimum age for entering the industry from 21 to 18, encouraging youth participation as apprentices. The Department of Labour will support training these apprentices.

The bill introduces several licensing categories: Short Term Rental Licenses for owners of short-term rentals like Airbnbs, and an Apartment House License for owners of more than four long-term rental properties on the same land. Notably, property owners renting up to four long-term units will not require a license.

To ensure practitioners are familiar with the local community, a 90-day residency requirement for operating in the Virgin Islands’ real estate market is also included.

Industry leaders have praised the proposed changes. Dan Savaro, president of the Territorial Association of Realtors, and Ava Gail Bourdon, president and Principal Broker at RE/MAX St. Croix, both commended the bill for providing a solid regulatory framework for future generations. B.J. Harris, vice chair of the V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Real Estate Commission, highlighted the importance of understanding fiduciary duties and accounting practices for property managers.

Despite general support, Carl Gotts, vice president of Vacation St. Croix, voiced opposition, particularly regarding association with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which recently settled a lawsuit for $418 million over anti-competitive practices. Gotts also raised concerns about the new license’s potential impact on collecting the 12.5% Virgin Islands hotel tax, though Alfred clarified that tax collection would remain unaffected by the regulation changes.

Senator Marise James suggested refining the bill’s language, while Senator Carla Joseph sought clarity on the implementation timelines for the new rules and educational requirements. Horace Graham, assistant commissioner of the DLCA, proposed a grace period for the educational component, estimating a reasonable timeframe of 90 to 180 days for compliance once the program is established.

Bill 35-0193 will next be reviewed by the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, alongside a companion bill to establish a property manager position on the Real Estate Commission.

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St. Croix Road Closure and Water Outage Scheduled for May 22

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ST. CROIX — The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has announced a temporary road closure and water service interruption on St. Croix for Wednesday, May 22, due to critical maintenance work.

These disruptions are part of the ongoing Hannah’s Rest Waterline Rehabilitation project. The affected area will involve a two-lane closure on Queen Mary Highway, west of the Emancipation Drive intersection, from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Motorists are advised to use alternative routes to avoid delays. Traffic control measures, including flaggers, will be in place to assist with navigation.

Additionally, residents in the Smithfield, White Lady, White Bay, Stony Ground, Two Brothers, Mars Hill, and Wheel of Fortune areas will experience a water service interruption from approximately 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. WAPA has provided a detailed map indicating the impacted areas and suggested detours.

This temporary inconvenience is necessary to facilitate a tie-in operation by WAPA’s Water System Maintenance crews and their contractor, Marco St. Croix. WAPA appreciates the community’s patience and understanding during this period of essential maintenance aimed at improving the local water infrastructure.

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Urgent Search Underway for Missing St. Croix Man Known as “Smiley”

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The Virgin Islands Police Department’s Forensic/Identification Section of the Criminal Investigation Bureau has issued a critical missing person alert for Raymond Ward, 62, affectionately known as “Smiley.” Ward, originally from St. Kitts, was last seen by a family member on April 29, 2024, and has not been seen since.

Ward is described as a Black male with a slim build, standing 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 147 pounds. He has distinctive brown and gray dreadlocks and a light complexion. When last seen, he was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans. The details of his shoes are unknown.

He is known to frequent areas around Sion Farm, Sion Hill, Sion Farm Shop, and H&H Tire & Battery, as well as the Five Corners region.

Authorities urge anyone with information about Ward’s whereabouts to contact Officer T. Cox at the Wilbur Francis Command Police Station at 340-778-2211 or Officer M. Joseph at the Ancilmo Marshall Command Police Station at 340-773-2530. Information can also be provided to the 911 Emergency Call Center at 340-772-9111 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

The VIPD appeals to the community for assistance in ensuring Mr. Ward’s safe return to his family.

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