Habitat for Humanity pursues boosting local homeownership
Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico has a goal: to boost the percentage of homeownership on the island, which according to the most recent US Census data is estimated at 68%.
That was one of the conclusions that the nonprofit’s Executive Director Amanda Silva exposed during a virtual seminar held jointly with the Center for a New Economy (CNE) with local journalists dubbed “From the Parcelas to the Pandemic: Accessible Housing in Puerto Rico.”
The housing units under the nonprofit’s acquisition program cost some $173,000 while an average of $30,000 is invested in homes that need repairs, Silva said.
“The home mortgage costs the family or person between $70,000 and $80,000,” Silva replied to News is my Business. “To give you an idea, in our most recent project in Santurce, the families are paying about $200 to $260 a month for an apartment. There are no [apartment] rentals in San Juan lower than $500 a month.”
“So, we’re providing opportunities for them in areas where there is economic development and schools. And they can have stability in their payments so working families can pay their mortgage and the amount they pay each month doesn’t fluctuate,” Silva said.
She acknowledged that each year more families are moving out of Puerto Rico, but noted that if they are given an incentive, such as access to buying their own home “it helps families to think about it before leaving Puerto Rico.”
“Because they will have an asset and something to fight for here in Puerto Rico,” she said.
The current cost of building a home in Puerto Rico is expensive and for this reason the purchase, rental, and construction of all types of homes is heavily subsidized by both the local and the federal government. Building and investing in infrastructure involves an array of different players, such as government agencies, banks, lawyers, appraisers, architects, engineers, among others.
The challenge is “how to continue empowering homeowners in Puerto Rico,” Silva said
The nonprofit organization believes that at a federal level, an attempt should be made to create a tax credit program for the construction of units that are up for sale. While the local government — capitalizing on the flexibility of post-disaster programs — could design community-based repair programs that target self-identified homeowner families and create pre-development construction funds for small developers.
Meanwhile, Michelle Sugden-Castillo, a specialist in social interest housing development and programs, said the nonprofit organization wants to “foster a conversation that will help develop public policy” for social interest housing that responds “to our local circumstances and realities” for more people to be able to own their homes.
In addition, Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico helps citizens that need to repair their homes so they can continue living in them.
Sugden added that Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico developed its model, supported by recent research, and works with municipalities and nonprofits to select communities in non-flood-prone areas where families can stay and have access to schools, roads, jobs and other opportunities.
Currently, Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico is working together with some 20 municipalities and has had an impact on 651 homes through its construction program.
“At Habitat Puerto Rico we repair, rehabilitate and build single-family homes and multi-family buildings,” Silva said. “We support individuals and families with scarce and moderate economic resources interested in repairing their homes or becoming homeowners, guiding them through the entire process of acquiring a low-cost home or assisting them with home repairs to keep it safe.”