FEMA personnel assess the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. (GFR Media)

The Movimiento de Vivienda Digna claimed yesterday that along with the slow disbursement of federal recovery funds, the obstacles imposed by the local government “threaten the right to housing” of communities in Puerto Rico.

One of those obstacles is the Housing Department Action Plan because it adopted a general rule that “discriminates against the families whose homes have the least value,” denounced the movement, that brings together over 20 diverse organizations.

"While the federal administration refuses to disburse our federal recovery funds and imposes unjust barriers to the island, the local government imposes public policies and an action plan that threaten the right to decent housing," said Charlotte Gossett, director of the Hispanic Federation in Puerto Rico.

The group also demanded the protection “of the right these vulnerable communities have to be treated fairly, choose where they will live, decide to stay in their communities, and have an opinion about the recovery process.” And they also asked to prioritize “ local organizations and institutions in the distribution of recovery funds.”

The petition is addressed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Housing and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Movimiento de Vivienda Digna requested to “break down bureaucratic barriers and unnecessary, oppressive federal control measures that fail to recognize Puerto Rico’s capacity to execute and determine its own development. This includes HUD’s elimination of the Federal Financial Monitor imposed on disaster relief funds and allowing greater transparency in the fund administration process so that Puerto Rican communities can effectively participate in it.”

"Natural phenomena, the economic crisis, and private interests should not serve to prevent the state from respecting and enforcing our rights," said Ariadna Godreau of Legal Aid Puerto Rico.

In fact, this organization, dedicated to providing education and free legal support, filed four complaints with HUD alleging that the local government plan to use federal funds discriminates against protected groups.

These complaints were filed specifically on behalf of residents of Caño Martín Peña in San Juan. "HUD has already received the complaints, which is the first step, and we are waiting for a determination," Godreau said.

The Homeowner Repair, Reconstruction, or Relocation Program (R3), said the group, is discriminatory since it “establishes that, as a general rule, reconstruction will not be an alternative for families living in flood zones—without taking into consideration the opportunities for mitigation and the reality and interests of each family and community before relocating them.”

"If you tell vulnerable people I am not going to assist you, you are evicting them from their homes, from their environment and you are destroying their lives," Godreau said.

The group recognized affirmative steps by Housing to make the recovery process a more participatory one, such as publishing the R3 program guidelines and alternative mechanisms for people with property title problems.

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