Governor allocates $20 million for new program to repair ‘blue tarp’ homes
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
On the fourth anniversary of the passage of Hurricane Maria through Puerto Rico, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Monday assigned $20 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to the Socioeconomic and Community Development Office (ODSEC by its Spanish acronym) to repair and renovate homes with “blue roofs.”
Unlike the Blue Roof Project, which is under evaluation as part of the Department of Housing’s action plan to address families who lost their roofs after either hurricanes Irma or Maria using Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) funds, Pierluisi said the new program seeks to complement Housing’s efforts to replace damaged roofs at residences that represent a “great threat to the health, safety and well being of families who live in those structures.”
The governor added that the allocation comes as ODSEC addresses cases “that the Housing Department cannot attend to within federal guidelines.”
“This is why in order to take immediate action on these needs that still persist, we assigned these funds to ODSEC to, aside from eradicating blue tarps on top of homes, repair houses that are in need,” Pierluisi said, noting that ODSEC Director Thais Reyes said the program responsible for helping island families with their properties only had a $2 million budget.
The announcement comes in order to provide financial aid from 8,000 to 15,000 “blue points” found from geospatial images, for which ODSEC is set to evaluate and inspect the issues in place.
“By having a blue tarp, it doesn’t mean that the residence must be repaired using federal funds available,” Pierluisi said. “And what a coincidence, ODSEC received a list from 39 municipalities where mayors identified houses with blue tarps, and from those municipalities, the list included more than 7,000 homes; 39 is half of the municipalities [in Puerto Rico]. When we get the list from the rest of the municipalities, we could get up to 14,000 homes with blue roofs.”
In addition, the program will provide the necessary resources to bring residences up to building codes, address electrical or plumbing problems, improve energy efficiency, and make other home repairs that eliminate health and safety hazards.
The governor expects the funding assignment for the ODSEC project will allow the administration to impact 1,500 families before mid-2022.
During the press conference, which was also attended by Housing Department Secretary William Rodríguez Rodríguez, it was indicated that completed units under the agency’s R3 program have increased 293 percent from January to September. It was reported that in December 2020, 412 houses had been completed, while today 1,651 houses have been delivered.
The Small Business Financing (SBF) program, meanwhile, has already disbursed about $44 million in CDBG-DR recovery funds through direct grants to small businesses that were affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
According to the press release from the Governor’s Office, from January to September, “the program has seen a 248 percent improvement.”
“In January, 275 grants had been delivered, while as of today, 961 grants have been delivered, with an increase of 686 grants delivered,” reads the document. “Likewise, in the case of the Direct Buyer Assistance program, this has had an improvement of 3.192 percent from January 2021 to the present. In December, 27 closings had taken place, while 889 mortgage loan closings have been achieved with this assistance.”