FEMA completes construction of first post-Yutu new home

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A DEDICATION ceremony was held in Koblerville on Friday to mark the completion of the first newly built, fully concrete home under the CNMI-Federal Emergency Management Agency Permanent Housing Construction (New) program.

The three-bedroom home is owned by 66-year-old local resident Soledad Santos Ito and is the first of 20 homes under construction to be completed. The homes of the PHC New program include three on Tinian.

In the Commonwealth, over 180 eligible households have been chosen to participate in this program, with homes being either one, two, or three-bedroom fully concrete homes complete with water catchment systems, typhoon shutters, generator hookup, and indoor kitchens with connections to expand outdoors.

Fifty-nine of the 122 homes in the PHC-Repair program are now complete and have been turned over to their owners.

The homes are built to the 2018 International Building Code, or IBC, Standards for wind resistance — up to 195 miles per hour — and all applicable federal, state, and local building codes.

This program is offered in insular areas outside of the U.S. mainland where alternative housing resources are unavailable or scarce, and where repairs are neither feasible nor cost-effective.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres requested the program, which FEMA approved and funded.

Applicants have been approved on a case-by-case basis.

The governor on Friday thanked residents for their patience in awaiting the completion of the construction.


From left, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Special Assistant Gerald Deleon Guerrero, governor’s authorized representative for the Super Typhoon disaster Vicky Villagomez, Sen. Sixto Igisomar, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Soledad Santos Ito, Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios, FEMA Recovery Office Director Sheryl Cochran, Saipan Mayor David Apatang, and first lady Diann Torres cut the ceremonial ribbon in front of the first newly built home under the CNMI-FEMA Permanent Housing Construction (New) program. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

“I know that [FEMA] is working on 20 homes…. I know it’s taken a while, but the construction that we have now with Ms. Ito is a great accomplishment for all of us,” he said.

He congratulated Ito, FEMA, CNMI Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and Super Typhoon Yutu governor’s authorized representative Vicky Villagomez for their partnership.

FEMA Recovery Office Director Sheryl Cochran, for her part, said these homes are resilient and will last for generations to come. She said the homes are fully concrete with over a mile and a half of rebar in each home.

Cochran said this is only the fourth time in over 40 years of FEMA history that the agency has built homes.

“We would have liked for construction to have been a lot quicker,” she said, adding that there are 19 other new homes that are currently under construction, of which three are expected to be completed this week.

She said FEMA found that some of the typhoon survivors had issues with providing clear deeds or titles to the property, thus delaying the commencement of the repair construction.

“We have several homes that are still undergoing probate review, so FEMA’s assist has provided expanded disaster legal services to those survivors to help them prove title land ownership that includes doing family trees and hierarchies, and actually working with the courts to sign off and make sure that we have clear land ownership before we can proceed,” she said.

Three of the 10 PHC homes under repair on Tinian have been completed while all of the new construction homes are projected to be completed in May 2022. All repair homes have a project completion date of November 2021.

Regarding the Ito home, Cochran  said it is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act — it is wheelchair-accessible, has guardrails in the bathroom, and has strobe smoke detectors for the hearing-impaired.

Ito was notably excited to finally move into her new home after about two years of patiently waiting.

She thanked FEMA and the administration for their efforts,  saying she feels very secure in her new home.

Ito used to live in a wooden home that was destroyed by Super Typhoon Yutu in Oct. 2018.

To residents who are still waiting for the agency to finish constructing their homes, Ito said, “Keep praying — and enjoy when you go back to your home.”

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