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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate president: Affordable housing initiatives are too costly and moving at too slow a pace

Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago

By The Star Staff

Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago said Wednesday that the costs of the affordable housing projects touted by the governing administration are too high.

The Popular Democratic Party senator chided the “scandalous, high cost of an affordable housing unit of the Department of Housing,” adding that it is a sign of “mismanagement and insensitivity” by the administration of Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia.

Dalmau Santiago charged that the government used $56 million in federal tax credits to build 89 affordable rental housing units in the “Ensueño” Project in San Juan, at a “scandalous” $629,000 per unit.

He said the Mirador Las Casas Project in San Juan relied on $66 million in federal tax credits to rehabilitate 294 residences at the cost of $225,000 per unit. Likewise, he denounced the fact that units at La Égida Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, in which $41 million was used to construct 120 rental housing units for older people, will cost $341,000 each.

“The untimely and inadequate use of federal funds at this high cost that the government is paying for affordable housing in various recently announced developments is unacceptable,” the Senate leader said. “These housing programs demonstrate the poor execution of the government in expediting the essential work to deal with thousands of families that still require a safe roof.”

Similarly, the R3 Program, which has some $3.2 billion for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of residences damaged by natural events and relocation of victims, had identified some 17,000 possible homes that deserve assistance, of which 1,200 were under construction as of February.

“Given the low rate of homes in the construction process, we have the shameful figure of 3,600 families that still live with a blue [tarp] awning as a roof, more than five years after Hurricane Maria,” Dalmau Santiago said.

Likewise, he noted, the City Revitalization Program has $1.3 billion in federal funds and some 324 approved projects with a committed investment of $800 million.

Of all the approved projects, some 148 are in the design stage, 169 have yet to start, four are in the auction process, three are under construction, and none have been completed, Dalmau Santiago said.

He said the affordable housing initiative still needs to be completed two years into the current administration, even though the funds are available until 2025.

“So it is possible that it will be necessary to return part of these resources because they have expired due to not being used promptly,” the Senate president said.

Dalmau Santiago went on to point out that the Buyer Assistance Program has an allocation of $495 million. Some $181 million was earmarked to address some 5,389 cases, representing only 36% of the available funds. That low percentage is also linked to the existing requirements limiting the eligibility criteria for program benefits.

“I recently announced that given the government’s demonstrated slowness in expediting the proper use of the over $74 billion of federal funds available for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico, I introduced Senate Bill 1153, legislation that would require that the executive branch submit quarterly reports to the Legislature to monitor the use of these resources,” Dalmau Santiago said. “The data that I have shared with you regarding the efforts and initiatives in the Housing Department with federal funds confirms the need for the government to provide detailed and frequent information on the status of the projects financed with these federal resources. Even more so when, due to the slowness in expediting the required projects, we expose ourselves to losing funds for not using them within the period required by federal regulations.”

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