January 31, 2019

Together, We’re Better: Disaster Recovery in Puerto Rico

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Government and nonprofit leaders offer lessons learned in recovery from Hurricane Harvey, Superstorm Sandy, and Hurricane Katrina.

On Tuesday, January 22, Enterprise Community Partners, NeighborWorks America, and the Puerto Rico Community Foundation, hosted more than 150 nonprofit and community leaders for a day-long workshop in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The presentations and panel discussions featured in the workshop underscored the important role that nonprofits play in rebuilding their communities after natural disasters.  

This workshop represents the launch of Enterprise’s broader effort to develop a nonprofit capacity building network for Puerto Rico with the Puerto Rico Community Foundation and Neighborworks America. Along with local and national partners, Enterprise will create a local network of nonprofit and community leaders to support collaboration and innovation around service delivery, advocacy and resource development. We believe that, working together, local nonprofits can multiply their impact and promote a more equitable, community-driven recovery effort in the wake of future natural disasters.

Attendees represented nonprofits, government agencies, foundations, financial institutions and other community organizations from Puerto Rico, as well as the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. mainland. Speakers and panelists shared information on challenges and lessons learned in their efforts to rebuild Puerto Rican communities after Hurricanes María and Irma. 

As a native of St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, their stories of displacement, loss and community resilience truly resonated with me.
The session opened with remarks from Enterprise President, Laurel Blatchford.  In her remarks, Blatchford recognized the important contributions that the attendees have been making to support their communities, and emphasized that now, more than ever, there is the need for a nonprofit network to facilitate communication and collaboration in addition to harnessing resources and targeted capacity-building to strengthen these organizations, so they can serve their communities.

Serving the Most Vulnerable After Disaster

The first panel discussion, invited representatives of various local nonprofits to share stories from their work in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and obstacles that they continue to confront in the recovery effort. Organizations represented included Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico, Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia, Puerto Rico Community Foundation and Ponce Neighborhood Housing Services.  Panelists emphasized their focus on serving the most vulnerable members of their communities, including young people and the elderly.  They also discussed the challenges faced by community members that are not able to provide documented title to their homes to receive adequate federal support.  Local nonprofits continue to work with these individuals helping them to navigate various legal and bureaucratic obstacles to access the resources and support they need.

Lessons From the Mainland

The following panel featured government and nonprofit leaders from disaster-impacted communities across the U.S. mainland, including Houston, New York City and New Orleans. These speakers shared lessons from local recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey, Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina as well as the subsequent weather events impacting New Orleans.  
Each panelist spoke to the programs and partnerships that helped stabilize their communities and emphasized to attendees that recovery is a very long process that requires a critical partnership between governments and nonprofits.

An Action Plan for Disaster Recovery

In the afternoon, the Puerto Rico Department of Housing (Vivienda) delivered an update on the commonwealth government’s CDBG-DR action plan and highest priorities for the disaster recovery process.  Attendees were able to ask questions, clarify eligibility, and get more information on the process for increased engagement.
Following this presentation, attendees had the opportunity to share announcements from their respective organizations with one another, and the workshop concluded with remarks from Joan Staussman Brandon, regional vice president, Northeast Region of Neighborworks America.  

Learn more about Enterprise’s work to support disaster recovery in the Caribbean.