Governor touts disaster recovery gains as HUD secretary visits PR
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Tuesday received U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge at La Fortaleza, with whom he spoke about the recovery efforts and reconstruction of houses on the island from a series of natural disasters, and on the use of federal funds that Puerto Rico has received.
“I have an excellent relationship with Secretary Marcia Fudge since we both served in Congress together and her visit to Puerto Rico is yet another example of her commitment to our island,” the governor said in a written statement. “We continue to advance in the reconstruction of Puerto Rico and in our goal of providing safe housing for everyone. I thank Secretary Fudge and the Biden-Harris Administration, because since both [the federal and commonwealth] administrations began, there has been a significant change in public policy toward Puerto Rico, which has allowed greater access to federal funds and less bureaucracy in disbursements.”
He added that “as an example, when my administration began in 2021 there were some 500 houses repaired or built and now we can say that we have almost 4,000.”
“Likewise, we worked together with Secretary Fudge and we achieved that today Puerto Rico has access to 89 percent of the disaster assistance funds assigned by the federal department of housing. These are great achievements, which demonstrate not only the excellent relationship with the federal government, but also the priority and agility that we are giving to reconstruction on the island.”
Fudge and the governor met along with Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón; island Housing Secretary William Rodríguez Rodríguez; COR3 Executive Director Manuel Laboy; the deputy secretary of the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, Maretzie Díaz Sánchez; Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Executive Director Carmen Feliciano.
During the meeting, Fudge was informed about the status of the recovery efforts on the island and the use of the funds allocated to Puerto Rico from the CDBG-DR and Community Development Block Grant Mitigation programs.
The governor signed an executive order for Puerto Rico to join HUD’s House America initiative, which seeks to provide a safe home to homeless individuals or families through a housing first approach and to promote the development of new affordable housing using federal funds provided in the American Rescue Plan Act.
Meanwhile, the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee, chaired by independent Sen. José A. “Chaco” Vargas Vidot, began public hearings Tuesday on Senate Bill 778, which seeks to formulate a state plan to address homelessness and to eradicate and prevent the phenomenon. The discussion during the public hearing revolved around the fact that multiple barriers exist at the government level that cause homelessness to be chronic.
The measure, authored by Vargas Vidot, arises from the insufficiency of government efforts to serve the homeless in Puerto Rico, the senator said in a press release.
Earlier on Tuesday, Popular Democratic Party Secretary General Ramón Luis Cruz Burgos on Monday denounced the “stagnation on the part of the Pierluisi government” in attending to the reconstruction of the island, especially when it comes to the victims of Hurricane Maria, as well as of the earthquakes in the southern zone.
The politician stressed that the government has used less than 5 percent of the funds available for those purposes.
“There are funds to care for the thousands of families who suffered damage to their homes due to the effects of Hurricane Maria and the earthquakes in the southern part of the country,” Cruz Burgos said in a written statement. “We are witnesses to the inability of the Pierluisi government to attend to these families and the insensitivity of his government in offering help to those who are waiting for safe housing so that they can enjoy the quality of life they deserve.”
“While the families wait, we see how the money reaches the friends of the House, as in this case the intermediary who manages the federal funds in the Department of Housing,” he added.