HUD Secretary Meets With USVI and PR Officials About Recovery Efforts, Housing

HUD Secretary Meets With USVI and PR Officials About Recovery Efforts, Housing

WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, March 29 and to the U.S. Virgin Islands on Friday, April 1 to tour the islands’ disaster recovery efforts, meet with residents, local leaders, and elected officials about housing challenges and their experiences during reconstruction, and strengthen existing relationships to ensure ongoing collaboration and an equitable recovery.

The Secretary traveled to San Juan, Ponce, and Loiza while in Puerto Rico. In San Juan, Secretary Fudge joined Governor Pedro Pierluisi to meet with recovery agencies and discuss Puerto Rico’s recovery process since Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, and the earthquakes beginning in December 2019. Secretary Fudge also joined Governor Pierluisi as he signed an executive order joining the House America initiative to combat homelessness.

“My visit to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands emphasizes the great urgency there is for an efficient, effective, and equitable recovery across the islands,” said Secretary Fudge. “We want people to know that HUD, under this Administration, is on their side to ensure that reconstruction and other pressing issues are being met through community-based and culturally-appropriate efforts and that all stakeholders have a seat at the table. I heard many different perspectives during my visit – from government to nonprofit to private sector – and with ongoing collaboration and accountability, we can ensure equitable recovery and strengthened resilience for all people.”

In Ponce, Secretary Fudge met with local mayors to discuss disaster recovery progress, and then participated in a listening session with nonprofits and direct service providers on disaster recovery and housing challenges.

During the listening session, participants shared comments on the issues facing municipalities as it relates to housing in Puerto Rico. The meeting brought together participants from non-profit and disaster recovery service providers, and the overarching theme throughout the listening session was inequity.

Participants highlighted the capacity constraints throughout the reconstruction and relocation process after the extreme weather events that have impacted the island over the past decade. Secretary Fudge and participants discussed strategies to measure performance, analyze reconstruction and disaster recovery funds, and partner with local leaders to benefit marginalized communities in Puerto Rico.

At the end of the listening session, Secretary Fudge emphasized HUD’s mission of providing the equitable opportunity to safe, stable, resilient, and affordable housing for all communities in the nation. Following the listening session, the Secretary visited a home rehabilitated with Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding and welcomed a resident to it for the first time.

On March 31, Secretary Fudge traveled to Loiza for a meet and greet with Loiza Mayor Julia Nazario Fuentes followed by a policy expert roundtable, a lunch with direct service providers and anti-gender-based violence advocates, and a meeting with local private sector leaders.

During the policy expert roundtable, Secretary Fudge participated in discussions with participants on reconstruction strategies. Experts discussed the history of public housing and housing security in Puerto Rico, and the need to resolve the supply and demand needs for residents.

Participants also shed light on how the storm damages and reconstruction rates have perpetuated income segregation, poverty concentration, and opportunity and affordability disparities. Secretary Fudge and participants also discussed the billions of dollars in disaster relief that HUD, under this Administration, has made available to the island for reconstruction and resilience. While closing the conversation, Secretary Fudge assured consistent meetings between the Department and stakeholders on the ground to move forward with evidence-based solutions and build capacity.

Following the roundtable, the Secretary met with anti-gender based violence advocates. At the top of the meeting, the Secretary highlighted the programs at HUD that address gender-based violence.

Advocates – with lived experience – from various anti-gender-based violence organizations highlighted housing insecurity as a high-risk factor among victims. Advocates noted that the hurricanes, earthquakes, and pandemic have negatively affected victims via housing insecurity, unemployment, malnourishment, and compromised security. Participants also noted the racial and gender bias within the reconstruction process.

Secretary Fudge thanked the advocates for their time and for their candor, reiterating HUD’s commitment to preventing gender-based violence by ensuring that everyone has equitable access to safe, affordable housing. The Secretary suggested the opportunity to create a pool of resources and ensured that HUD will facilitate meetings between the government and advocates. She also assured continued collaboration with experts, including at HUD, to meet the urgency of the situation so that survivors can safely reach self-sufficiency.

Finalizing the Loiza trip, Secretary Fudge and the HUD team met with local private sector leaders to discuss HUD programs, affordable housing, reconstruction, and economic recovery. The Secretary noted the various concerns from local mayors, nonprofits, direct service providers, policy experts, and advocates to facilitate partnerships and build capacity towards permanent solutions. Secretary Fudge also stressed the importance of ensuring that federal housing investments are spent efficiently and effectively.

On April 1, Secretary Fudge visited St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to tour Estate Donoe, a Tutu Phase I Redevelopment Project, visit Celestino A. White Senior Homes Development, and participated in a roundtable with USVI nonprofit community organizations.

Throughout the site visits, Secretary Fudge was joined by Robert Graham, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority; Dayna Clendinen, Interim Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority; and site residents. The Secretary analyzed the disaster recovery efforts and discussed the importance of ongoing collaboration toward an equitable recovery.

During the roundtable, the Secretary listened to nonprofit community organizations that have participated in the recovery efforts from previous extreme weather events. The Secretary assured HUD’s commitment to strengthen existing relationships and meet the urgency of strengthening resilience to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Secretary’s visit to Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands emphasizes HUD and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to strengthening resilience and housing security for all communities in the nation.