Disaster Recovery Advocates Voice Concerns about Puerto Rico Recovery Plans

Disaster recovery advocates in Puerto Rico and around the country voiced concerns about the Puerto Rico Department of Housing’s (PRDOH’s) main recovery program in a statement released by Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) member Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico. The statement came in response to a letter released by PRDOH Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat that sought to address concerns about the Home Repair, Reconstruction or Relocation (R3) Program raised by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).

R3, the main program addressing Hurricane Maria recovery in Puerto Rico, has been criticized by advocates for emphasizing relocation of residents from high-risk areas over projects to repair homes and prevent damage from future disasters. According to R3 program rules, the assistance available for families living in the mostly rural areas designated as flood zones or considered at risk of landslides are vouchers for relocating to more urbanized areas of Puerto Rico or continental United States. This would affect approximately 250,000 homes.

In his response to the Congressional inquiries, Secretary Enseñat doubled down on the program’s rules, emphasizing the importance of relocation for Puerto Rico’s recovery. Executive Director of Ayuda Legal, Ariadna Godreau Aubert, accused Mr. Enseñat of using double speech. “To us – the communities [of Puerto Rico] and their organizations – he says that they [PRDOH] will minimize displacement through mitigation measures. To the members of Congress he says that it is through relocation that they will address the problem of families living in areas designated as flood zones or with some other risk,” she warned. "How will Secretary Gil Enseñat achieve credibility and respect with this dangerous double speech?" Ms. Aubert also stated that she had asked Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez to look into the matter.

The statement was endorsed by NLIHC as well as multiple members of the DHRC, an NLIHC-led group of more than 850 local, state, and national organizations working on disaster recovery to ensure that the most vulnerable survivors of disasters receive the assistance they need to recover.

An English translation of the Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico statement is at: https://bit.ly/2PZgybi

The congressional letter inquiring about the R3 program is at: https://bit.ly/2Q8RDSH

PRDOH Secretary Gil Enseñat’s response is at: https://bit.ly/38ZeSHB