July 25, 2018

Rebuilding With Resilience in Puerto Rico

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Rebuilding in Puerto Rico

Each of the 6,500 households in Puerto Rico still without reliable electricity is a victim of the island’s struggle to recover after the 2017 hurricane season. About half the 20,000 homes in the U.S. Virgin Islands still need repair, and thousands of residents in the Florida Keys continue reassembling their lives after the storms.  

As a Puerto Rican with most of my immediate family on the island, I am troubled by these conditions, which underscore the vulnerability of my loved ones and, for all intents and purposes, my homeland. But as strange as it may seem, I also am inspired by what has transpired on the ground in the past year.  

Early recovery was localized, with community groups identifying needs and meeting them as best they could through various connections within the island, the Puerto Rican diaspora and beyond. Amid the devastation, the island’s collaborative spirit and commitment to community were comforting – and capture Puerto Rico’s culture and values, which were instilled in me at a young age, even as a Nuyorican who spent many summers in Ponce and Aguada.  

With every visit I made in the wake of the storm, I saw that people across Puerto Rico recognized they couldn’t simply rebuild things as they had been. While Hurricanes Irma and Maria produced massive damage, they also highlighted decades of economic and political challenges, difficulties that have long been barriers to meeting ongoing housing and community development needs.  erika ruiz and father NEW.jpg

Given the growing climate threats, people in Puerto Rico, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida Keys, increasingly understand they must protect themselves from weather-related disasters by taking active steps toward mitigating risk to housing and communities from natural hazards and promoting resilient communities. Enterprise’s newly launched Climate Strong Islands Initiative (CSII) promises to help the islands recover from last fall’s storms – and rebuild in a way that expands their capacity to address long-term community needs.  

Key to the initiative is collaboration with partners. Three funders have come together to support CSII: The New York Community Trust, the Hurricane Relief Fund and U.S. Caribbean Strong Relief Fund at The Miami Foundation, and Unidos por Puerto Rico. Each is committed to ensuring that the rebuilding efforts of these island communities improve people’s lives and prepare communities for future challenges – and that the lessons learned from these events, combined with our support, help other islands facing similar risks recover and rebuild in a resilient way. 

One of CSII’s major offerings will be Keep Safe Puerto Rico: Strategies for Puerto Rico Housing Resilience, a decision-making tool to assist housing designers, operators, construction professionals, owners and regulators determine resilience strategies to make homes safer from extreme weather. Publication in English and Spanish is planned for 2019. The manual will be distributed free in conjunction with trainings for the affordable housing industry in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida Keys.  

CSII has other crucial and ambitious goals that include: 

  • Building the capacity of local organizations and government partners so they make the most of recovery dollars and move toward long-term sustainability 
  • Advocating for policies to ensure effective use of federal resources  
  • Developing capital resources to assist recovery and expand access to well-designed homes, promoting community and economic development 
  • Improving and fostering collaboration between community groups and municipal, state and federal agency partners 
  • Piloting innovative solutions to island-centric needs and identifying scalable models  

In our visits to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Florida Keys, my colleagues and I have met with residents as well as government, nonprofit and business partners. While the task ahead is enormous, we are inspired to work together to build the kind of resilient communities we all want to live in.  

To support the Climate Strong Islands Initiative, please donate to Enterprise’s Hurricane Recovery Fund