May 15, 2021

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Thousands remain homeless since Hurricane Maria | PRESENT

SAN JUAN – Nearly three years after Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of homes continue to show severe damage, many residents face hurricane season under blue tent roofs and the island's first major program to repairing and rebuilding houses has not even completed one.

Maria struck more than 786,000 homes on September 20, 2017, causing minor damage to some and ripping others from their foundations. A federally funded program administered by local authorities made relatively small repairs to some 108,000 homes the following year, and churches and NGOs arranged thousands more with private funds.

The Puerto Rican government's plan known as R3 is the first major initiative of the US territory to make major repairs and rebuild damaged or destroyed houses. About 27,000 homeowners have registered, but almost a year and a half after the release of federal funds to local officials, not a single repair or reconstruction job has been completed.

According to Puerto Rican authorities, the works are almost lists in the first 45 houses that benefit from the plan, but nothing is complete.

For many Puerto Ricans, the slow progress of the program has become a symbol of the government's inability to address the effects of the disaster in the long term. term.

"They speak of many billions of pesos, but that is not seen," said Sergio Torres, mayor of Corozal, a town in the northern mountains. In his municipality there are still 60 houses with blue canvas roofs and two families are still in school shelters. “That is the order of life.”

María swept Puerto Rico with winds of 155 miles per hour (mph) and her eye spent eight hours on the Island, destroying the electrical network and causing damage estimated at more than $ 100,000 million. It is estimated that 2,975 people died after their passage.

“Your home is reborn,” a program administered by the Puerto Rican government that operated between January and December 2018, repaired 108,487 residences with funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some have had to be repaired again due to the poor quality of the works. Churches and charities launched smaller-scale initiatives across the island.

But tens of thousands of houses remain uninhabitable by modern standards, with damage ranging from total destruction to a lack of roofs. In the mountainous town of Villalba alone, in the center of the island, 43 families continue to live with blue tents as roofs. Its mayor, Luis Javier Hernández, said that one family used yours for so long that it wore out and they had to give it a new one. repairs to homes where less than 80% of the region's median income is earned.

The territory government presented its plans to use federal aid funds for R3 in June 2018. The first $ 1.5 billion of the program was Available in February 2019, and another $ 1.7 billion were approved in February of this year.

About 27,000 homes applied for aid from the start of R3, on July 31, 2019, until the beginning of January, when the Puerto Rico government Rico stopped admitting requests. Of the accepted ones, several hundred have been rejected and thousands are still in the preliminary phase of the process. More than 900 people are still on a waiting list.

"It is clear that delays in Puerto Rico are much greater than we have seen elsewhere," said Carlos Martín, of the Urban Institute.

The Department of Puerto Rican housing is understaffed, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has imposed an unusual number of requirements on the island's government to prevent fraud or improper spending, he added.

Puerto Rico's housing secretary, Luis Carlos Fernández , who recently took office, said authorities have tried to simplify the application verification and approval process.

Fernández said he does not know if the federal funds received so far will be sufficient to help all those accepted in the program, older applicants with disabilities and those with significant damage to their properties will be the priority.

"We are not going to end in years," said F ernández.

According to Fernández, more than 2,600 of the applicants continued to use blue tents instead of roofs. In September 2019, former Housing Secretary Fernando Gil said that in total it was estimated that there were still between 20,000 and 25,000 of the so-called “blue roofs” on the island.

This is a figure that angers Ariadna Godreau, a lawyer of human rights led by a legal NGO.

"We never thought of such a scenario," he said. “It is horrible.”

Among those who are still waiting is Marián Colón, 38, a single mother of two children. The hurricane ripped the roof off her home and caused an upcoming landslide that endangered construction, and nothing has been fixed or repaired in nearly three years. At this time, she went from house to house thanks to the generosity of her relatives, but she is eager to settle down.

Colón said she knows of several people who signed up for the program and surrendered after numerous failed attempts. Some did not have access to the internet or a car, which makes the mission almost impossible, he added.

"It has been a very exhausting process and has been very overwhelming," he said.

Governor Wanda Vázquez, who assumed The post in August following the resignation of his predecessor over protests over corruption and other issues, said his priority is rebuilding houses damaged by the hurricane. "Excuses were abundant and unacceptable," he said. “Our people have waited too long, and cannot take it anymore.”

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