The high accountability standards agreed between the Government of Puerto Rico and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for housing and community infrastructure reconstruction, are an important step forward in the transparency practices that guarantee a healthy use of public funds.
We trust that the implementation of more strict internal controls will allow the release of the first $ 1,5 billion of the about $ 20 billion allocation to the island, through the HUD Community Development Block Grant Recovery Program. The federal agency gave green light to the action plan outlined by the Puerto Rico Department of Housing.
This oversight agreement is essential because the funds aim to address critical situations suffered by many families. These include complete or partial loss of their homes, often accompanied by the lack of property deeds.
The Puerto Rican government estimated at 300,000 the number of homes affected by hurricanes Irma and María. Many victims were relocated to other neighborhoods. There are still thousands of structures with blue tarps.
For the benefit of different categories of victims, HUD will deliver the first $ 1,5 billion in mid-August, under reinforced oversight guidelines.
These are very good news. The agreement compliance will raise the confidence of the federal government and the people in infrastructure works; and the certainty that the funds will be used for the purposes they were approved, in strict commitment to the law. It should also reinforce "Tu Hogar Renace" (Your House Reborn) program implemented by public the Puerto Rico Housing Department.
The action plan announced by Governor Ricardo Rosselló and the Secretary of Housing, Fernando Gil, contemplates a $ 775 million allocation for the repair, reconstruction and relocation of homes. HUD also approved $ 45 million for overdue mortgages payment through the Housing Finance Authority. This seeks to prevent owners who have not been able to fulfill their obligations, due to the hurricanes, from losing their properties.
There will be $ 25 million for property deeds, in response to one of the major obstacles to access federal aid. This will enable a large number of individuals and families to move towards formal housing. A very important social dimension of the plan is the $ 12.5 million allocation to build houses for gender-based violence victims and homeless people.
Local government´s speed in the design of internal controls will allow the inflow of federal funds into the economy. Construction and its associated activities make up a large area of opportunity to encourage direct and indirect jobs creation and the creation of businesses.
Once the initial phase of funds management has been successfully completed, Puerto Rico will be able to begin the second phase: a $ 10 billion allocation for the much-needed infrastructure and renewable energy projects in order to stop depending only on oil. Thus, Puerto Rico undertakes the diversification of energy sources. In fact, there will be a $ 36 million package allocated to develop renewable energy projects in homes.
A third phase will address atmospheric events mitigation. This includes
$ 8 billion for projects that include channeling of rivers.
In Washington, there is great interest in the island´s recovery, as shown by the recent visits of the Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and a congressional delegation led by Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic minority leader, who reviewed the work in progress and the reconstruction plans.
In this direction, the agreement between HUD and the state government is the route to improve standards and guarantees for the proper use of federal funds.
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