Ricardo Rosselló and Fernando Gil. (horizontal-x3)
Ricardo Rosselló and Fernando Gil. (Ramón “Tonito” Zayas)

Yesterday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved the action plan outlined by the government for the use of $ 1,507 billion of the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) .

Despite that "vote of confidence", HUD will not disburse the funds until the Ricardo Rosselló Nevares administration details the internal controls it will take to ensure the proper use of the funds.

Fernando Gil, Secretary of Puerto Rico Department of Housing, an agency that will oversee the use of the funds, explained that once they submit that report, HUD will proceed with the disbursement, which would occur in mid-August.

"That is in writing, and basically, now we have to begin submitting, and thus explain how we would handle each of the cases in terms of disbursement," Gil said in an interview with El Nuevo Día.

Gil explained that, in addition to these controls, the agency will appoint a program manager seeking to speed up and provide quality to the process. "The Recovery Office will also make all projects visible, where they are and where the money is. There will be a third level of accountability," added Rosselló Nevares.

In addition to the internal processes that may be developed by the Puerto Rico Housing Department, the congressional bill that authorized the funds, as well as HUD, have their own audit requirements.

The Puerto Rico Housing Department also manages "Tu Hogar Renace" program (Your House Reborn), and due to the criticisms and questions this iniative caused, Gil ordered to audit its operations.

Focus on housing

Rosselló Nevares explained that these funds – there will be another disbursement of over $ 18,5 billion to mitigate the crisis aggravated by Hurricane María - will mainly seek to enable families to transition from informal to formal housing.

"These programs help them acquire property titles and allow them to enter reconstruction, relocation and rehabilitation programs, which is where most of the resources are stabilized," said the governor.

According to the document, $ 775 million are for housing repair, reconstruction and relocation, $ 45 million for the payment of mortgages in arrears - up to a maximum of $ 20,000 - through the Housing Finance Authority, and another $ 36 million aimed at the development of renewable energy projects for houses.

There will also be another $ 12.5 million to build housing for gender-based violence victims and homeless people and $ 25 million to obtain property deeds.

The letter signed by HUD Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development, Neal J. Rackleff, states that administratively, HUD continues its review of the Puerto Rico implementation plan, capacity assessment and financial certifications to assess Puerto Rico's ability to manage these funds and the associated risks.

The design of the Disaster Recovery Plan was criticized by organizations that indicated that it promoted a "developmentalist" vision that did not consider the inventory of abandoned housing units and lacked the integration of public policy on planning issues.

Both the governor and Gil said they did consider some of the recommendations of the public comment process, however they recalled that the parameters for using these funds are different.

The next steps

Once the disbursement of this money occurs, the expectation is that during the next few weeks, the government will initiate a new phase that would allow the disbursement of an additional $ 10,000 million.

For this stage, the use of money for infrastructure and renewable energy projects would be expanded. "We have the opportunity to take all this capital and build or strengthen weak infrastructure, that helps investment, the development of the energy model. It allows us to create a more robust investment environment, " the governor said.

The third disbursement of $ 8 billion would be for mitigation projects, such as river channeling.

"(HUD) will soon issue a guide that covers the use of these additional funds, and Puerto Rico should submit the necessary amendments and / or the new action plans to address the use of these funds," reads the letter.

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