April 25, 2005 The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would increase the maximum income requirement for participation in the V.I. Housing Finance Authority's Home and Land Ownership Program.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., was one of five approved by the committee Monday.
White said his legislation is important because it allows more Virgin Islanders to own "a piece of the rock." Married couples with both partners working were having difficulties because their salaries were too high, when combined, to participate in the affordable housing program, White said.
"With this measure, we can catch more people for the home ownership program," he said, in particular blue-collar workers.
The Home and Land Ownership Program, established by the Legislature in 1981, gives low and moderate-income families the opportunity to purchase land and afford homes by providing low-interest loans.
In its current state, the program provides financing for individuals or families with incomes ranging from $18,000 to two and a half times the median income of their island district as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The bill increases the maximum limit to three and a half times the median income of each district.
Last Wednesday, Clifford Graham, Housing Finance Authority executive director, told members of the Senate Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee that the median income for the St. Thomas-St. John district is $37,350 and the St. Croix district is $29,900. This currently translates to a maximum household income of $93,375 and $74,750 respectively.
Graham also said that with the present maximum household income, the maximum purchase price of the home could not exceed approximately $180,000 on St. Croix and $225,000 on St. Thomas.
If the new law is enacted, individuals or families with a household income up to $130,725 in the St. Thomas-St. John District and a household income of up to $104,650 on St. Croix would be eligible to participate in the program.
Senate President Lorraine L. Berry said with the new legislation in place, approximately 45 percent of the V.I. population would be able to afford homes.
"This legislation is critical to the middle class of these Virgin Islands," Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, committee chairman, said, adding that a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house averaged $400,000 on the market today.
Malone said the measure would also prove valuable to the government because the property tax base would increase.
The bill was approved with a 6-0 vote and forwarded to the full body with a favorable recommendation and a three-minute debate time.
Sens. Berry, Pedro Encarnacion, Malone, Terrence Nelson, Usie Richards and White voted for the measure. Sen. Ronald E. Russell was excused. Sen. Liston Davis, who is not a committee member, was also in attendance at the meeting.
In other actions the Rules and Judiciary Committee also approved the following bills:
– A bill appropriating $150,000 each for V.I./Puerto Rico Friendship Day and Emancipation Day activities from the Tourism Revolving Fund.
– A bill appropriating $400,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Education Department to establish and conduct the Summer Science and Humanities Enrichment Program.
– The Physician Licensing Act of 2005, which would govern the licensure, supervision and discipline of physician assistants in the territory. The bill allows them to pronounce death and dispense and administer drugs with the supervision of a physician.
– The Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Prescription Act of 2005, which grants APRN's limited authority to prescribe certain types of drugs.
The committee forwarded all the bills to the full body with a favorable recommendation and three-minute debate time.
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