Feds sue San Juan for failing to use property to help the needy

By The Star Staff

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), an agency that provides federal agencies with workplaces, goods, and services, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has sued the city of San Juan to get back the former Reserve Officers Beach Club located at Stop 7.5 that was transferred to the capital in 2005, for failing to use the property to help the homeless and provide health services.

The alleged violations to the deed’s terms began under the tenure of former Mayor Jorge Santini, who served as mayor of the island capital from 2001 to 2013, but continued under former Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, who ended her tenure as mayor earlier this month.

According to the suit, filed on Dec. 23, a deed was presented at the Property Registry in San Juan. HHS transferred the property to the Municipality through the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949, which among other provisions, allows the transfer of property owned by the United States for the protection of public health, and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, which allows the use of public buildings and real property to assist the homeless.

The deed provides that the property was subject to certain conditions, including that for a period of 30 years beginning within three years of the filing of the deed, it was to be used continuously for health purposes in accordance with the grantee’s approved program of utilization and for no other purpose. During the aforementioned period of 30 years, San Juan was not allowed to resell, lease, mortgage, or encumber or otherwise dispose of any part of the property or interest unless authorized in writing, among other conditions.

“The approved program of utilization as set forth in its application dated the 27th day of December 2002, amended on January 10th, 2003, provided that the property was transferred to the Municipality for homeless assistance and subsequently approved for the public health use of providing health-related services to children with special healthcare needs for a period of 30 years,” the suit states. “Under the terms of the deed, the Municipality is subject to all of the conditions, covenants, and other requirements contained in the deed.”

“Despite HHS’s good faith efforts, the municipality failed to comply with the terms and conditions of use contained in the deed with respect to the property,” the suit added. “In sum, the Municipality has failed to use the property for any eligible/approved homeless assistance or public health purpose.”

The municipality also failed to meet the requirement of placing the property into use within 36 months of the date of the deed, the suit states.

On or about July 19, 2019, the U.S. officials, by a letter from Theresa Ritta, the program manager of HHS’ Real Property Management Services Program Support Center, to Lizabel M. Negrón-Vargas, legal counsel to the municipality, stated that it had elected to exercise its option to revert the title of the property back to the U.S. for noncompliance with deed conditions.

“The decision to exercise the right of reverter provided in the Quitclaim Deed dated April 26, 2005, was a final determination,” the suit states. “The Municipality has stated that it will not voluntarily revert title of the Property nor has it provided the United States of America with possession of, or title to, the Property.”

The federal agencies seek an order declaring that the United States is vested with exclusive and absolute title to the property, in fee simple free and clear of any liens, mortgages, or encumbrances. The case was assigned to Judge Aida Delgado on Dec. 28.

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