The current phase of Puerto Rico’s post-disaster recovery will be defined primarily by the urgent need for housing, a panel of local and international experts convened by the Center for a New Economy to discuss housing policy in post-disaster contexts.
Federal funding, such as the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds, will be instrumental in crafting policies that can address the impact of the storms on the island’s affordable housing stock while safeguarding the social fabric and financial stability of vulnerable communities, according to the panelists.
The event featured former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, along with local experts such as Irma N. Torres Suárez, legal advisor to the Cooperative League of Puerto Rico, Carmen Melero, former vice president at Popular Mortgage and Principal at Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, and urban planner Michelle Sugden-Castillo.
The panel also included two scholars of urban planning: Elora Lee Raymond, assistant professor in the School of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech, and Vincent Reina, assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania.
The event, titled “Affordable Housing in Times of Crisis: Lessons for Puerto Rico,” was the second conference organized by CNE’s Blueprint Initiative, which hosts knowledge exchanges between scholars, policy practitioners, and other stakeholders interested in housing and land use policy in Puerto Rico.
Panelists shared insights from their professional experiences and research on affordable housing policy in a variety of different contexts, and discussed lessons learned from previous post-disaster reconstruction processes that can guide Puerto Rico’s own quest to recover from the damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017.
The experts also discussed underlying affordability problems that preceded the hurricanes, many of which can be traced back to the 2008 housing market crash. These include a mismatch between the large amount of empty housing units and the unmet demand for affordable housing, as well as lengthy waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 benefits.
“Housing affordability is directly related to other issues in urban development, including socioeconomic segregation and the concentration of poverty, access to employment and economic opportunities, and gentrification and threats of displacement,” said Raúl Santiago-Bartolomei, research associate at CNE and one of the hosts of the conference.
“Taking all of this into account, an expansion of the affordable housing stock requires a comprehensive strategy focused on decreasing urban sprawl, facilitating access to jobs and essential services, ensuring long-term affordability, and avoiding foreclosures, evictions, or community displacement,” he said.
CNE’s Blueprint initiative seeks to define a path forward for housing and land use in Puerto Rico by producing actionable research and hosting productive conversations and knowledge exchanges on issues of land ownership, accessibility, and safe housing.
These efforts serve to collectively develop a comprehensive and inclusive housing and land use framework that addresses the complex needs of Puerto Rico’s reconstruction process.