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ADVOCATES URGE THE PUERTO RICO HOUSING DEPARTMENT TO ACT BEFORE THOUSANDS ARE LEFT WITHOUT ASSISTANCE

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

  • Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, Inc.

January 15, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ADVOCATES URGE THE PUERTO RICO HOUSING DEPARTMENT TO ACT BEFORE THOUSANDS ARE LEFT WITHOUT ASSISTANCE

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico. ---- Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, an organization focused in providing free legal education and community support, urges the Puerto Rico Department of Housing (the Department) to adopt clear protocols and guidelines for people without formal property titles to benefit from CBDG-DR programs. They urge the Department to accept a sworn declaration for those eligible persons without formal titles, so that they are able to prove ownership of their homes and access funding for repairs. This will ensure the persons who need the most help have the greatest access to funds for post-disaster recovery. Accepting a sworn statement as proof of ownership will also prevent thousands of people from running out of the funds needed to help to repair their homes.

FEMA denied around 62% of disaster aid applications and 80% of appeals filed. Nearly 70,000 people did not receive assistance due to the lack of formal title documents, despite legally owning their homes. This demonstrates the urgency of adopting a sworn declaration as an alternative way to verify ownership. Ayuda Legal, along with other access to justice entities, developed a sworn statement form and led the process for FEMA to accept this statement when there is no formal title or documentation. The federal legislation is clear: a person does not need to have formal title to access funds to repair their homes after the disaster. No attorney or notary is needed to prepare this sworn statement.

The Texas experience around CDBG-DR funds demonstrates that a sworn statement can be adapted to apply for this assistance for people without formal title. Ayuda Legal prepared a legal memo and models that the Housing Department would need to implement a sworn statement in its CDBG-DR programs.

"We have not received a response from the Department after having requested, two months ago, clear guidance regarding alternatives methods to proof ownership. We also have not found protocols on alternative methods to prove ownership. Without a standard document, history will be repeated and thousands will be left astray, without help. This money will not benefit those who still need to repair their homes. The federal government shutdown, has put all CDBG-DR processes on hold but at the same time provides an excellent opportunity for the PR Department of Housing to sit down and review its protocols. " - said Ariadna Michelle Godreau-Aubert, Director of Ayuda Legal. In turn, Danishia Santiago, community lawyer, said that "we want to ensure a fair, just and efficient recovery process for  the communities. The sworn declaration will ensure that more people can benefit from this money and finally get their houses repaired. Communities do not deserve more obstacles."

After hurricanes Irma and Maria, about $ 20 billion in CDBG-DR funds were allocated for the recovery of communities affected by disasters. These funds must be used to meet the uncovered housing, infrastructure and economic recovery needs of vulnerable populations. HUD approved the Action Plan for the first $ 1.5 billion. It remains to be seen if the federal agency will approve the amendments to the Plan, made with the second allocation of $ 8.2 billion.

The Jornada of Participacion Comunitaria CDBG-DR  is a coalition of entities that work towards access to justice in the country as well as grassroots and community organizations. This coalition is facilitated through the work of Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico. More information about the Jornada and the participation claims can be found at www.recuperaciónjustapr.com. This website serves to demand real participation and transparency in relation to the government's plans for these federal funds, disseminate information on the management of these funds and announce educational and work activities aimed at the community and other organizations.

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