How Puerto Rican Homeowners Could Get Help Faster

“We are still living in crisis,” says former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (Photo by Gregg McQueen via Manhattan Times)

Legislators and community advocates gathered May 21 in Manhattan to push for Congress to adopt the Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act, introduced by Rep. Adriano Espaillat and 16 co-sponsors. The act would make it easier for homeowners to receive government assistance for home repairs in the event of a disaster, writes Gregg McQueen in Manhattan Times.

Spurring the legislation are conditions in Puerto Rico, where approval has been given to only 40 percent of the 1 million applications for financial assistance that have been submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) since Hurricane María devastated the island last year. The problem is that many owners do not have deeds, since their property has been held for several generations. Calling this “a bureaucratic hurdle that must be solved,” Espaillat said the legislation would allow FEMA to accept alternate forms of proof of home ownership, such as utility bills, pay stubs, credit card statements or school registration documents.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who now serves as a senior advisor for advocacy group Power 4 Puerto Rico, touted the legislation as a way to get assistance to residents more quickly.

“We are still living in a crisis on the island of Puerto Rico,” she said. “We have an unstable electric grid, we have tens of thousands of people that are living in conditions that are deplorable.”

She added:

“Maybe FEMA has not encountered [people having difficulty proving home ownership] in other disasters, but these agencies need to be able to be flexible and to deal with the challenges that they face and not to deny people access to resources because of that reality.”

Go to Manhattan Times to read how one community advocate says the U.S. government is victimizing Puerto Ricans “all over again” by not recognizing home ownership of many property owners on the island.

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