Towards Just Recovery: CDBG-DR Funds and Forced Displacements



During the last decade, nearly 14% of our population has been displaced due to the economic crisis, various austerity measures that have been implemented and rising inequality. The Housing Repair, Reconstruction or Relocation Program proposed in the Puerto Rico’s Action Plan for the use and management of the funds allocated under the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) will be important for the just recovery of the island. This program could allow thousands of families to finally repair or rebuild their homes. However, under current policies, many communities are at risk of being excluded from this opportunity. According to the current regulation, all housing that is located within flood zones or is susceptible to landslides may not benefit and their owners would only be eligible for relocation.

This policy disproportionately affects impoverished and black communities, who will be left with few alternatives to find decent housing in Puerto Rico. Recovery should not be justification for more displacements!


Current policies promote displacements

– New flood zone map

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Planning Board of Puerto Rico extended the areas designated as floodplains. As a general rule, FEMA does not provide assistance to governments for infrastructure projects in flood areas. The funds can be conditioned to the fact that there are no structures in flood areas. Homes in flood zones are required to purchase insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program in order to obtain federal benefits, such as guaranteed FHA mortgages or disaster assistance, which many people cannot afford. These maps have been contested by communities who state that their lands are not flood prone and that, absent clear mitigation policies, they are being put at risk of displacement. The maps cover nearly 40% of the surface of the land in Puerto Rico and include more than 200,000 households.

– CDBG-DR Action Plan

$ 9.7 billion in CDBG-DR funds have been approved for Puerto Rico. The Action Plan does not meet federal requirements. Among other flaws, it does not include a clear policy to minimize displacements. The Plan prohibits rebuilding and repairing houses in zones deemed as landslide or flooding prone. The Department of Housing intends to adopt identical implementation guidelines for 27 programs that are totally different from one another and require clear parameters in order to ensure decent housing and fair recovery.

– Austerity

There are many ways to displace communities. The closure of schools and hospitals, the increase in rents, the deterioration of infrastructure, and the lack of economic opportunities are some of the many triggers that cause the abandonment of communities. Austerity promotes the speculation of foreign investors that benefit from tax exemptions and visitor’s economy schemes that end up buying the lands of the impoverished. Gentrification displaces and substitutes local populations.

– Opportunity Zones

This mechanism offers exemptions to investors who make projects in disadvantaged areas. Without clear parameters or demands for accountability, this benefit could lead to projects that favor gentrification and displace poor communities.

Know your numbers:

  • Around 472,000 houses were affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria
  • FEMA denied 58% of the applications for assistance and nearly 75% of appeals
  • Two-thirds of people in Puerto Rico who got housing repair grants from FEMA received less than $3,000. The median assistance grant was $1,800.00
  • 200,000+ houses are in flood zones
  • 98% of the island is identified as an opportunity zone
  • 22 municipalities have identified communities that are at risk of being displaced
  • More than 280 days have passed since the first $ 1.5 billion CDBG-DR funds were assigned and communities have not yet seen a dime

We need to act now!

It is urgent to act in order to guarantee that at-risk communities remain protected. We demand the government to adopt human rights standards to address precarious housing, relocations and the impact of natural and man-made risks on communities. The public policy changes proposed here are affirmative steps in this direction:

  • 1 The local Department of Housing must amend the Action Plan to eliminate the prohibition to repair and reconstruct houses located in zones deemed flood or land-slide prone. Risk adaptation and mitigation measures must always be evaluated in order to ensure safe housing without forcing the displacement of people.
  • 2 The local Department of Housing must comply with federal regulations regarding CDBG-DR funds and adopt a clear policy to minimize displacements before initiating projects or allocating funds.
  • 3 The local legislature should adopt a broad policy framework that considers protections against forced displacements using international human rights standards such as the right to be notified, real and timely participation, access to justice and safeguards regarding adequate temporary or permanent relocations.


Basic rights in just recovery

Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico has identified basic rights within just recovery. These include the right to dignified housing, the right of people to stay or return to their communities when it is a safe alternative, the right not to suffer discrimination in the processes of reconstruction and recovery, the right to decide where they want to live, the right to a safe environment and the right to effective participation.

Jornada de Participación Comunitaria

The Jornada is a loose-coalition of communities and organizations that demand just recovery. It is geared to educate about CDBG-DR funds, promote human rights advocacy regarding the right to housing and community participation.

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Join our demand towards a just recovery and dignified housing. Read and endorse our demands below.


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ACASE- Alianza Comunitaria Ambiental del Sureste

Alianza de Salud para el Pueblo

Alianza for Progress-Florida

Caras con Causa

Center for Popular Democracy

Centro de Apoyo Mutuo Bucarabones Unido, Inc.

Centro de Apoyo Mutuo de Lares

Centro de Acción Urbana, Comunitaria y Empresarial (CAUCE)

CMTAS Yauco Inc

Clínica de Desarrollo Económico Comunitario de la Escuela de Derecho de la Universidad de Puerto Rico

Clínica de Asistencia Legal de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Interamericana

Clínica de Derechos Humanos de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Interamerican

Clínica de Desarrollo Económico Comunitario de la Escuela de Derecho de la Universidad de Puerto Rico

Coai, Inc.

Coalición de Coaliciones

Cooperativa Agroecológica de Montessori

Comisión de Derechos Civiles de Puerto Rico

Comunidades San Antón & Saint Just

Defend Puerto Rico

Diáspora en Resistencia

Disaster Law Project

G-8: Grupo de las Ocho Comunidades Aledañas al Caño Martín Peña, Inc.

Eli Foundation Puerto Rico

Fair Share Housing Center

Espacios Abiertos

Hispanic Federation

Hope Builders

Iniciativa de Acción Puertorriqueña



Instituto Caribeño de Derechos Humanos

Junta Comunitaria del Casco Urbano de Río Piedras

La Maraña Corp

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

National Low Income Housing Coalition

Our Revolution PR

Oxfam America

Peces Inc.

Alianza de Líderes Rincoeños

Ponce Neighborhood Housing

Pro Bono – Pontificia Universidad Católica de la Universidad de Puerto Rico

PROTESTAmos (Profesorxs Transformándonos en Solidaridad Tornada en Acción), UPR-Mayagüez

Proyecto Matria

Puerta de Tierra Camina

Red de Fundaciones de Puerto Rico

SoCal For Puerto Rico

Somos Dign@s

Taller Creando Sin Encargos

Taller de Planificaciõn Social

Taller Salud

United for a New Economy

Urbe Apie

VAMOS Puerto Rico

Instituto Universitario para el Desarrollo de las Comunidades

Junta Comunitaria de Residentes Los Usubales, Inc.

Colectiva Feminista en Construcción

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