More than 200,000 homes on the island are located in flood-prone areas, said the director of Legal Aid Puerto Rico. (GFR Media)

Washington - The group Legal Aid Puerto Rico filed a complaint before the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing (HUD) alleging that a plan to use up to $2.175 billion in Community Development Block Grant Program funds (CDBG-DR) lacks guidelines to prevent unreasonable relocations by the government.  

Ariadna Godreau Aubert, executive director of the organization, said yesterday that the action plan and the guidelines to implement the Homeowner Repair, Reconstruction or Relocation Program (R3 Program) "do not contemplate mitigation measures and adaptation to risks to avoid displacement."

The guidelines were published by the Puerto Rico Department of Housing on June 15. However, it was not possible to obtain a reaction from the agency yesterday. 

Godreau Aubert said in a complaint filed July 1 that it would be a real tragedy if, instead of finally facilitating the repair of the damage caused by Hurricane María to hundreds of thousands of homes, the administration of Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and the Department of Housing further aggravate the situation of the most vulnerable people in Puerto Rico through exclusions, forced displacements and the dismantling of the most vulnerable communities.

Godreau Aubert argued that the guidelines issued by the government of Puerto Rico violate HUD's requirements for the use of CDBG-DR funds.

The Puerto Rican government program states that "eligible applicants with homes in the floodplain which qualify for substantial improvement, rehabilitation will be offered relocation assistance." More than 200,000 homes on the island are located in flood-prone areas, Godreau Aubert said.According to the group's spokeswoman, the guidelines should have clear parameters to assist people who do not have a property title and to protect the integrity of the communities that would be affected by the government's proposed relocations.

More than 200,000 homes on the island are located in flood-prone areas, Godreau Aubert said.

According to the group's spokeswoman, the guidelines should have clear parameters to assist people who do not have a property title and to protect the integrity of the communities that would be affected by the government's proposed relocations.

However, so far, Godreau Aubert said, the only thing that the Housing Department indicated is that people without a formal title will be referred to a title authorization program, of which there are no details.

"People have the right to live in safe conditions. Both mitigation - for which funds were received - and adaptation can be alternatives. In cases where relocation is needed, this should be the last option and should be done with respect for the community", she added.

The complaint said that recent experiences with disaster recovery efforts have shown that streamlining disaster assistance policies and procedures is critical to ensuring equitable, fair and effective access to assistance.

In addition, the complaint urges the Puerto Rican government to suspend the program and demand the publication of the guidelines of the Uniform Act.

In the complaint, Legal Aid also questioned that the Puerto Rico Department of Housing only published the implementation guidelines for the Reparation, Reconstruction, or Relocation Program with CDBG-DR funds in English, thus violating Title VI of the 1994 Federal Civil Rights Law.

According to the organization, it was not until the complaint was filed last week that the Housing Department published on July 5 the translation of the guidelines.

Community attorney Paula Fournier del Valle explained that after receiving the complaint, HUD Inspector General must begin an investigation to determine if there has been  "misuse of funds."

"They may possibly request the Puerto Rico Department of Housing to respond to the arguments (of the complaint)", she said.

Godreau Aubert said the Puerto Rican government aspires to allocate $2.175 billion to the Repair, Reconstruction, or Relocation Program. The funds would come from the first two items of CDBG-DR, which reach $1.507 billion and $8.221 billion, respectively.

HUD has already released the $1.507 billion package and it is available to the government of Puerto Rico. Although HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced February 28 the approval of the $8.221 billion action plan, the money has not been released yet.Washington, D.C. Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González had indicated that they expected the disbursement before the end of June, which did not happen.

Every time he refers to the CDBG-DR funds Puerto Rico will receive, Carson says they are imposing a series of controls due to the island's government's record of "fiscal mismanagement."


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