Hispanic Federation has committed an initial investment of over $3 million to a comprehensive housing and community development initiative in Puerto Rico, prioritizing historically marginalized communities. This initiative integrates three critical recovery strategies: physical repairs to homes, advocacy, and community lawyering, aimed at solving for key issues such as the need for increased coordination of non-profits, decentralization of information, increased public participation in the recovery, and increased access to public and private recovery funds.
By integrating these strategies, the program will build the capacity of non-profit agencies and offer immediate housing assistance to vulnerable families in crisis, while multiplying impact through advocacy that builds power and breaks down systemic inequities. Hispanic Federation has developed the framework in collaboration with Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico and Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia.
In the rebuild strategy of this program, Hispanic Federation will invest $2.23 million in 10 local non-profit agencies to coordinate home repairs for the most vulnerable families and use their experiences to in turn inform the advocacy and community lawyering strategies. These organizations will rebuild a minimum of 150 homes across 10 communities on the island. These organizations will also receive advocacy grants, to ensure strategy integration.
In the advocacy pillar, the program will initiate and support a diverse civil society collective that will identify and advocate for public solutions to the most pressing housing and community development issues. Additionally, this group will facilitate coordinated recovery efforts and safeguard the right to real public participation. Hispanic Federation will invest $670,000 in 20 nonprofit groups in this pillar, impacting over 20 communities on the island.
Finally, as housing issues are raised through rebuilding and advocacy, the program's community lawyering strategy will ensure the legal resources necessary to best defend and promote people and their community interest. Through a $250,000 grant to Fundación Fondo Acceso a la Justicia, the program will connect legal service agencies with the 20 nonprofit groups to offer legal services that support housing and community development priorities identified by the community.
February - December 2019:
Repair/rebuild of a minimum of 150 homes.
Monthly meetings of the advocacy collective (20 nonprofits).
March - December 2019:
Community lawyering support provided to impacted communities.
In the wake of two hurricanes in September 2017, an estimated 80 percent of homes in Puerto Rico were damaged, hundreds of thousands of families lacked access to clean water, and the island faced the longest blackout in U.S. history. Over a year later, thousands of families still live in unsafe homes, a blue tarp atop their roof as their sole protection from the elements.
By their own admission, the federal government’s response to the disaster has been inefficient, inadequate, and inequitable. Misinformation and unequal applications of federal policy on tenancy requirements prevented thousands from accessing assistance funds. Although the Governor of Puerto Rico estimates $140 billion is needed to recover from the storm, federal funds and insurance payouts are expected to total just half that amount. So far, $20 billion in CDBG-DR funding has been appropriated by Congress to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for Puerto Rico. Of that, HUD has allocated $9.5 billion to the Puerto Rico Department of Housing, which must develop a HUD-approved Action Plan for the distribution of the funds. Fund distribution is not expected until mid- or late-2019.
Housing and community development problems did not begin with the hurricane and will not end with the recovery. Puerto Rico has long faced challenges related to land use, tenancy, gentrification and displacement, economic blight, speculation, affordability, foreclosures, and weak public policies regarding fair housing practices. Reports estimate 22% of total housing units on the island are vacant, 55% of buildings were informally constructed, and 250,000 buildings fall within current flood risk zones.
These systemic and institutional issues place a greater burden on historically marginalized communities, yet these are the very groups who hold the least formal power to protect their interests. Community-based non-profit organizations also play an important institutional role to amplify the voices of marginalized communities but have not received the resources necessary to support their advocacy and organizing efforts.
Hispanic Federation’s initial investment allows 20 organizations the financial resources needed to participate in the initiative. Additional funding can be leveraged to scale the initiative in two ways – by increasing the capacity of current participants and/or to provide funding to additional participants. In-kind media or marketing services that will allow the collective to amplify advocacy messaging are also helpful.
Through this program, Hispanic Federation is providing 20 organizations with funding for advocacy, 10 organizations with funding for home repairs, and matching all organizations with community lawyering services.