The designated Secretary of the Housing Department, William Rodríguez, expressed being aware that it is urgent to tear down barriers to the disbursement of funds for the reconstruction of the Island, for which he directed an analysis of the 17 aid programs, established contacts to get back on track the conversations with the federal authorities and within six months he plans to have concrete results.
Meanwhile, Rodríguez sends a message to the hundreds of families who are waiting for the response of the different programs to which they have applied or who have already established their qualification, so that they know that the work does not stop while the others are carried out managements.
The mayors, in turn, are attentive to the management of Housing and the local government so that the promises of aid to the victims are fulfilled, both by the hurricanes Irma and María of 2017, as well as those impacted by the earthquakes of the beginning of 2020. As previously mentioned, there are still houses on the island with blue awnings on the roofs, and others where general repairs have not been produced because the money has not arrived, commented the presidents of the Association of mayors of the Popular Party Democrático, Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz, and Ángel Pérez Otero from the Federation of Mayors of the New Progressive Party.
Rodríguez’s commitment to the changes that may expedite the arrival of the funds will be taken into account by the mayors to guarantee their confirmation in the Senate.
“In the first place, these first weeks we have been in an evaluation process of each of the recovery programs with CDBG-DR funds (Community Development Block Grant), which is the bulk of the funds that are arriving for Irma and Maria. We are concentrating on eliminating those processes that are unnecessary and that these funds reach the people who need them, “said Rodríguez, in an interview with THE SPOKESMAN. “I would hope that before the end of the month, complete that evaluation with the directors of each programmatic area and (begin) to make the adjustments.”
He indicated that each of the recovery assistance programs is under evaluation and that real explanations for concerns that arose, for example, in transition hearings must also be addressed and reached. The most notable was the construction of low-income housing at prices of up to $ 300,000 per unit in a project in Caguas.
The evaluation in Housing includes seeing how many steps are duplicated in the process to access the funds and to distribute them, how many are unnecessary, “but not only that, how many steps does it take to achieve a goal and how we eliminate time in the purchasing procedures, in the evaluation, in everything ”.
“In some of these points we have identified that adjustments can be made,” assured Rodríguez, but preferred not to go into the details until the management was completed.
“It is a very big challenge, it is a complex program because it is the largest allocation that has been assigned in the history of the federal Department of Housing and there are many eyes on Puerto Rico, not only of the people, but of the federal government”, Rodríguez highlighted, and mentioned that there are multiple audits related to each penny.
Dialogue with the feds
The designated housing secretary said that more than three years after the devastating hurricanes Irma and María, “most of the funds are not available and that is the great challenge.” There was an initial allocation of $ 1.5 billion, and a second package of funds for $ 8.22 billion (with access to only $ 1.7 billion), reported Vivienda.
Part of the efforts, he detailed, includes approaching the federal government authorities, with the new government that will take office as of January 20 with the swearing-in of President Joe Biden.
“Governor Pierluisi began conversations with President Biden’s transition committee to see the restrictions on Puerto Rico and see how they can be eliminated and be on an equal footing,” Rodríguez reported, and accepted that the fight is against bureaucracy “and see how are those additional requirements imposed by the federal government eliminated ”only on the island.
Rodríguez, who held the position of administrator of Public Housing until December, indicated that he has already begun to seek dialogue with officials in Washington that will also speed up the processes of disbursement of funds assigned to the Island.
“I know the agency for being within the Housing umbrella and I know those needs. We come to implement the changes and what we want is not to waste time “, he emphasized, and again said that people know that” we are not stopping the execution of the different programs, we are looking to reengineer the processes. “
The mayor of Villalba and president of the Association of Mayors, Hernández Ortiz, indicated that he has already communicated with Rodríguez. He has also let the new presidents of the Senate and the House of Representatives, José Luis Dalmau and Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, respectively, know that the confirmation of the Housing Minister is conditioned with the commitment to eliminate bureaucratic processes and bring the help of recovery to the victims.
“I have discussed it with the presidents of the House and Senate, so that they put pressure on the designated Secretary of Housing and make the use of funds more flexible so that mayors can endorse it after all the experiences we have had,” he said.
He described what has happened as “a criminal delay” and attributed it to the changes in the procedures made by the government of Ricardo Rosselló, which deprived the mayors of direct management of CDBG funds and took that management to Housing.
“These funds should never have been handled by the state government; We have the experience, we are the municipalities, but the government wanted to have control in their hands and we have already seen history. We have houses with awning roofs and improvements that have not been made. I would ask the new Secretary of Housing to change the work dynamics and start making contracts so that the projects are managed by the municipalities and people start to see them ”, he recommended.
For the leader of the federated mayors, Pérez Otero, “until now everyone agrees with what we want to take into action and that is a giant step that everyone is speaking the same language and that was not what it was. happening before ”.
Pérez Otero reported that he has already communicated with Rodríguez and the governor and soon there will be a meeting of both with all the mayors to see the agenda for this year. “We want the structure and the bureaucracy for the liberalization and use of the funds to be modified a bit and the municipalities can be used as ‘sub-grantee’, because we have a lot of experience with CDBG funds. See how to develop some consortia between municipalities. The designated secretary has shown availability to be able to work and the governor has also, ”said the mayor of Guaynabo.
He added that “in the process of confirming Rodríguez, the legislators will be asking the right questions and seeing how we can advance with their commitment.”
Mayors hope the governor’s building council can help too.