Efforts by banks, private companies, and the government to weigh the use of repossessed homes as housing options for families who lost their houses to the earthquakes are a wise initiative.
Knowing how soon certain structures listed as unoccupied residences might be available would represent an opportunity for those families now living in camps, because their homes completely collapsed or are in unsafe conditions, to start going back to normal life.
Local authorities have taken a wise step by starting meeting with banks to see, among other things, how many homes with a value that falls under the social interest line could result in alternatives for the relocation of homeless families in the southwestern region of the island.
As part of these efforts, the initiative includes a voucher program to enable these vulnerable families to access safe and affordable housing in the short term. The cooperation of the investment sector should be part of these efforts, as well as the creation of conditions to facilitate access. Subsidizing housing insurance with emergency funds could be among the clauses that could be considered.
Other safe housing alternatives already known are Section 8 housing vouchers which offer subsidies to rent homes or apartments.
According to preliminary official estimates, until last week, there were 800 homes impacted by the earthquake in the island´s southwestern region. Of that total, 641 were completely or partially collapsed. Six villages with a total population of about 247,268 in a region with an unemployment rate of between 11 and 15 percent show the greatest need for housing following the earthquakes.
It is crucial that efforts to provide residential alternatives for this population involve the timely and integrated participation of teams from the Housing Department, the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions, the banking and investment sectors, as well as federal authorities linked to emergency relief funds.
As part of the efforts, it will be essential to break down bureaucratic barriers in order to address the main needs of the most vulnerable citizens who lack a roof and family support, among other things that affect their quality of life. Mayors of municipalities that have not been severely affected by the earthquakes are also called upon to present low-cost housing alternatives to attract victims willing to move into their towns.
Efforts of all sectors not only help in assisting the victims but also in boosting the repossessed properties markets while encouraging people to stay in Puerto Rico.
It will be also appropriate to review government responses in other jurisdictions that have experienced similar emergencies to those on the island. We have recently heard the idea to review a model adopted after Hurricane Katrina in the United States, where unoccupied houses were transferred to victims, through grants from the federal Community Development Disaster Management Program (CDBG-DR).
While all immediate considerations are a priority for those affected by the earthquake, new alternatives identified to quickly respond to the island's safe housing needs should be extended to citizens who lost their homes due to the 2017 hurricanes and who are still living in structures with awnings and other inadequate conditions.
Puerto Rico must urgently, and in an organized manner, address the serious needs for safe housing, as part of crucial changes to fight poverty and promote better development conditions for our children and the rest of the population. The initiative must respond to a comprehensive and coherent public policy focused on the island´s recovery.