Op-Ed: The State Housing Plan: 2011-2015
The adoption of the State Housing Plan: 2011-2015 a year ago was a key event. What has transpired since it was adopted by the Government of Puerto Rico and the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) in September 2011 is equally significant. With the Plan, Puerto Rico has, for the first time, clearly established guidelines for affordable housing policies and for organizing efforts to provide continuity to these policies.
The Plan “is based on the premise that housing is not just the provision of shelter. Housing is part of an intricate web of relationships that incorporate factors in different areas and require integrated approaches. Thus, housing policies cannot be considered in isolation from economic, social and physical factors.”
The Plan has five priority areas decided on by the Housing Task Force, established for the purpose of preparing the Plan, and the Puerto Rico Department of Housing: affordable housing for the working population, housing for the elderly, housing for populations with special needs (homeless and others), integrating land use policies with housing needs and creating the appropriate institutional arrangements to assure effective implementation and continuity. Obviously, as conditions change amendments will have to be made.
Prior to drafting the Plan, a very detailed, precise and inclusive housing needs assessment was completed for HUD and the local Housing Department. In completing this assessment a broad array of industry, municipal and community-based organizations were consulted in meetings held in early and mid-2011. Some key concerns were the aging and declining population as well as housing affordability.
The Plan calls for the establishment of a Housing Policy Implementation Committee (HPIC) charged with implementing its strategies and specific actions. The HPIC is composed of government agencies, the Mayor’s Association and Federation, and community based organizations. It has met on a monthly basis since September 2011. Its four sub-committees (Finance, Regulations, Land Banking and Municipal Best Practices) have broad representation from professional and other groups.
Among the recommendations in the Plan that the HPIC has moved on, include the establishment of a land banking initiative for which pilot projects have been selected and are underway, major changes in the construction code in order to make affordable housing possible, the creation of a Center for Municipal Excellence to improve handling of federal and local housing programs, adoption of Plan priorities by the PR Housing Finance Administration in its lending activities, the development of new financing programs, and a host of others. The creation of regional housing councils, new Community Reinvestment Act initiatives, and drafting of an Omnibus Housing Bill are underway.
HUD has made the State Plan a model for the states to follow.