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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Housing lacks funds for more solar program vouchers

Rep. Ángel Fourquet Cordero (Griselle Rosario)

By The Star Staff

The Housing Committee of the House of Representatives launched an investigation on Monday into the process followed by the island Housing Department to grant 6,000 vouchers through the New Energy Program so qualified citizens can buy solar panels.

The process was criticized because many citizens were unable to apply for the $30,000 vouchers.

Housing Secretary William Rodríguez Rodríguez appeared at the public hearing chaired by Rep. Ángel Fourquet Cordero.

“Something that I always have as a priority, as an elected official, is to defend the rights of each citizen in each government sphere. This process undermined the trust of each constituent involved in it,” Fourquet Cordero said. “There were some conclusive rulings, and for me, the most dangerous thing is that there are strong allegations of irregularities. Given that, this public hearing is necessary so that the people of Puerto Rico hear first-hand and have the necessary peace of mind for future events.”

Rodríguez Rodríguez said the New Energy Program for installing solar panels sought to adjust to the needs of eligible families, considering critical medical needs.

“To give you an idea, in the first minute of opening the application process, we received around 45,000 people in waiting lines in our system,” the Housing chief said. “We could only have the digital queue open for about five minutes.”

Likewise, Rodríguez Rodríguez clarified that to be eligible for the program, applicants must own or have an ownership interest in a single-family home that, in turn, is their primary residence and must also earn 80% or less of the median income.

“Regarding the distribution of program vouchers, Housing has granted 9,380 vouchers divided into two rounds and 604 installations have been completed among eligible cases,” he said. “In the second round, completed on January 31, even those distributed vouchers are in the initial application phase to the program, so there is no data on completed cases.”

Likewise, Rodríguez Rodríguez confirmed that no more funds are expected to be allocated for a third round of voucher distribution for the installation of solar panels.

“Right now, we do not have any more funds in the New Energy Program for these purposes,” he said.

The Housing secretary also assured that around 400,000 families would have benefited if the agency had the necessary resources for the New Energy Program.

The program received a funding allocation of $350 million. Under program guidelines, eligible individuals would receive up to $30,000 in equipment and installation costs for renewable energy systems in a single-family structure.

“We, definitely, have to study and rethink for future occasions whether shopping centers are an alternative for carrying out these processes due to the situation that arose,” Rodríguez Rodríguez said. “However, we have to keep in mind that many in the population involved in these programs do not have the necessary skills to complete a process like this through digital media.”

“Even so, we must be realistic,” he added. “The need in our population exceeds the amount of funds and resources we have available and will surpass any strategy and mechanism we have at our disposal. Although we do not want it to be this way, we will always be forced by logic to leave hundreds of people out, but let there be no doubt that everything was carried out properly and the process was conducted in a transparent manner.”

Fourquet Cordero, meanwhile, asserted that the problem in the process was that the most “vulnerable” people were excluded without the right to receive help.

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