Powerful Initiative to Merge Efforts in the Reconstruction of Homes, Collective Advocacy, and Community Legal Assistance in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, PR. March 18, 2019 – Hispanic Federation (HF) has committed to an initial investment of $3.17 million for a comprehensive housing and community development initiative in Puerto Rico. Through a partnership with Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico and Fundación Fondo Acceso a la Justicia, HF will create and implement a strong plan comprised of three crucial recovery strategies: physical repairs of homes, collective advocacy, and community legal assistance.

These strategies are designed to help meet program objectives, which include supporting the coordination of non-profit efforts, decentralizing information, ensuring public participation in the recovery, facilitating access to public and private recovery funds, and promoting collaboration in defense of the right to safe and adequate housing. By consolidating these three strategies, the partners hope build non-profit capacity, offer immediate housing assistance to vulnerable families in crisis, and, at the same time, multiply their impact through collective housing advocacy, thereby empowering people and combating systemic inequality.

Charlotte Gossett Navarro, Senior Operations Director for the Hispanic Federation in Puerto Rico, emphasized that “our initiative is based on the vision that every person should enjoy the fundamental right to safe and adequate housing, as well as the opportunity to genuinely participate in the recovery and development of their communities. In Puerto Rico, however, historically marginalized communities face systemic inequalities that have prevented the realization of this vision. Community based non-profit organizations play a critical institutional role in elevating the voices of the community, yet they have not received the necessary resources to support existing efforts.” Gossett added that “It is important to highlight that the Hispanic Federation has committed an initial $3.17 million to a comprehensive housing and community development initiative. This initiative, designed in collaboration with local partners Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico and Fundación Fondo para la Justicia, integrated three crucial recovery strategies—physical repairs to homes, multi-sector advocacy, and community legal assistance. We hope that by integrating these frequently isolated strategies we can develop the capacity, collaboration, and coordination of non-profit agencies, offer immediate housing assistance to vulnerable families in crisis, and multiply our impact through collective advocacy efforts to empower communities, facilitate public participation, and defend the right to safe and adequate housing.”

For her part, attorney Ariadna Godreau Aubert, Executive Director of Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, said that “the grant from Hispanic Federation allows us to shape and give continuity to our advocacy tools. To amplify the voices of the communities, educate about the right to decent housing after the disaster, and promote participation—all this is vital. The right to a just recovery calls for an acknowledgement of our crucial leading role in the future of our country and our homes. To achieve this, advocacy is essential.”

Adi G. Martínez Román, JSD, Executive Director of Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia, stressed that “We are very excited to be part of the housing initiative promoted by Hispanic Federation and to coordinate its Community Legal Assistance component, an important tool for improving access to justice that focuses on education and legal support. For a year, selected entities may offer legal services to organizations that are impacting communities thanks to grants by the Hispanic Federation. The call for grant applications ends this Friday, March 15, so we encourage all non-profit organizations interested in promoting this type of civil legal aid to participate”.

For this first phase, grantees were selected in the fall of 2018 on the basis of their diversity and current efforts. Initial grants will cover a period of one year, until the end of 2019. In terms of the distribution of the $3.17 million, the budget assigned to the project (this amount does not include previous investments of over $1.5 million in other housing projects implemented on the island), Hispanic Federation will initially invest $2.23 million in ten (10) local non-profit organizations, an amount that will help reconstruct a minimum of 150 homes in 10 different communities. To insure strategy integration, these 10 organizations will also receive advocacy grants. An initial investment of $670 will support the participation of 21 non-profit groups in collective and community advocacy efforts that will impact over 20 communities across the island. Additionally, these funds will help the groups coordinate recovery efforts and, in collaboration with Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, will facilitate and safeguard the right to genuine public participation. Part of the plan includes guaranteeing the necessary legal resources to better defend and support citizens and their community interests. Through its initial 250k investment in Fundación Fondo Acceso a la Justicia, HF will connect legal services agencies with 20 non-profit groups to offer community legal assistance. This will include $20,000 for support expenses to develop the project base.

The following organizations will participate in, and benefit from, this initiative: Alianza de Líderes Comunitarios, Asociación Mayagüezana para Personas con Impedimento, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, Caras con Causa, CMTAS, Coalición de Residentes de Vivienda Pública, Colectivo ILE, Fundación Fondo Acceso a la Justicia, G-8, Hope Builders, Iniciativa de Eco Desarrollo de Bahía de Jobos, Instituto para el Desarrollo Socioeconómico y de Vivienda, Instituto Universitario para el Desarrollo para las Comunidades, Junta Comunitaria de Río Piedras, La Maraña, One Stop Career Center, PathStone Corporation, PECES, Ponce Neighborhood Housing Services, Proyecto MATRIA, Ricky Martin Foundation, Taller Salud, and UbeApie.

G-8 President Lucy M. Cruz Rivera said, “In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane María, residents of the El Caño communities were the first to respond and help each other out. Since before the emergency, G-8 has been active in leading recovery efforts. With the Techo para el Caño project and with seed funding granted by Hispanic Federation, we have constructed 91 resilient homes and hope to build many more. The emergency continues to be a reality in our communities. We are still seeing the blue carps and there is much work left to do. We need the focus of CDBG-DR funding to be on facilitating the restoration and reconstruction of homes with the aim of improving infrastructure without displacement, and on completing the long-awaited dredging of the Martín Peña canal. We demand a just recovery with genuine community participation. We hope other efforts will join the HF initiative to promote the wellbeing of our communities and our country.”

Elizabeth Colón Rivera, Executive Director of Ponce Neighborhood Housing Services, added: “The lack of affordable, safe, and adequate housing is a problem that our disadvantaged communities have experienced for decades. Ponce Neighborhood Housing Services looks for assertive strategies that will allow them to develop projects where those factors are minimized or eliminated. Being part of the Hispanic Federation initiative will help us advance this goal and collaborate with similar groups in Puerto Rico. It will give Puerto Rican families the chance to acquire safe homes that are adapted to their needs. By creating structured programs aimed at eradicating social and housing problems, Ponce NHS will contribute to giving low- and middle-income families the opportunity to acquire safe, affordable homes. This in turn will allow communities to develop socially, economically, and culturally.”

As part of the final stage of the initiative, on March 19, 2019 Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico will launch a telephone hotline to offer legal support in cases of mortgage foreclosures and answer questions about housing rights in Puerto Rico. The hotline will operate on weekdays from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. The number to call is 787.957.3106.

While the strategies for this great housing initiative evolve and advance, there will continue to be opportunities to increase the investment and the potential impact on communities across Puerto Rico.