Affordable housing developers are working to get supplies to its employees and residents in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after the territories were devastated by Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria in September.
According to recent news reports, 95% of Puerto Rico residents are still without power, with the governor saying a quarter of people on the island will regain it by next month. The U.S. Virgin Islands is in the same situation, with the territory governor hoping to have power back to 90% of residents by December.
Columbus, Ohio–based National Church Residences has had 39 properties in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Puerto Rico impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, including one development that was destroyed on Texas’ Gulf Coast.
In addition to starting to rebuild Live Oaks Village in Aransas Pass, Texas, the nonprofit’s priority is focused on its residents and employees of its three Puerto Rico developments.
All residents and staff have been accounted for, with approximately 80% remaining in their units. The properties are not in bad shape after the hurricanes, although some units have broken windows. However, they have no power or phone service.
“We are making sure they have enough water, food, cash, and diesel fuel to try to get them to the point that some of the services will kick back in,” says Karen Twinem, vice president of communications and public relations for National Church Residences. “It’s been extraordinary work by our people in Puerto Rico. They are true heroes. Some of them have had their homes destroyed, and they are staying with our seniors.”
The three developments are rationing diesel fuel for the generators, which supply electricity to the common areas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“We are working with other nonprofits in getting materials and resources down to Puerto Rico so our teams can get what they need,” says Twinem.
Deliver the Difference will be delivering 300 buckets with 72 ready-to-eat meals and flashlights as well as solar water purifiers to each property in the coming days.
In addition, a doctor recently visited its Villa Providencia development in Guaynabo to evaluate the residents.
Nonprofit Volunteers of America, headquartered in Alexandria, Va., also has a 42-unit Department of Housing and Urban Development Sec. 202 development in Aguadilla on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico as well as a residential re-entry center in San Juan operated under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons housing 150 residents in the last six months of their incarceration. The residents at Casa Alborada were evacuated prior to Maria to the federal prison in Guaynabo, where they were subsequently evacuated to prisons in Mississippi.
The Victor Hernandez seniors housing community had been evacuated prior to Hurricane Maria, with the residents being sent to the city-operated shelter or to their families. As the road was closed to Aguadilla and communications non-existent, Patrick Sheridan, executive vice president of housing, says it took a full week until staff found out the status of the property, which primarily suffered tree damage. As of Sunday, property management staff has been re-established on site to assist the residents who have returned. Some fuel has been acquired to run the generator, and the city has provided clean water for the cistern at the property.
However, water, fuel, and money remain issues. With banks and ATMs being closed due to the lack of power, and if open, limiting withdrawals to $100 per day, this has impacted the ability to buy fuel. And if fuel can be found, vendors are requiring cash. Volunteers of America sent an asset manager to Puerto Rico on Monday. To obtain fuel, the asset manager took $20,000 in cash to the island with him—$10,000 for the Volunteers of America properties and $10,000 for the National Church Residences properties that are experiencing the same problems.
Volunteers of America also is organizing a volunteer relief mission to Puerto Rico for mid-October. Volunteers from its organization on both the health-care and housing sides along with affiliate staff will travel to San Juan to provide relief assistance and comfort. Sheridan says the nonprofit has been in touch with the governor's office, and the teams likely will work in shelters with the residents. They will be housed in its Casa Alborada property while on the island. It also is collecting donations of materials, clothing, and money through its website.
Developers McCormack Baron Salazar and Michaels Development Co. also have been working to get supplies to their developments on the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also lack power.
Milton Pratt Jr., senior vice president at Marlton, N.J.–based Michaels Development., took a one-day trip to St. Thomas on Monday to deliver supplies, such as baby formula, packaged food, and hygiene essentials.
“It was overwhelming,” he says. “The U.S. Virgin Islands needs some attention. You could see they have had some difficult times.”
Michaels’ Sugar Estate development sustained minor damage.
“We still have a lot of work to do with local authorities to have consistent water and power for the 80 seniors there.”
Its three projects in St. Croix sustained more damage than Sugar Estate. Michaels has arranged through its management company to send cargo containers with plywood, generators, nails, hammers, spare windows, tarps, and other building materials to arrive within the next week to nine days in St. Croix.
“I could see when I was there that the people on the island are strong and resilient and doing what they can to rebuild,” adds Pratt.
St. Louis–based McCormack Baron Salazar also has developments on St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, with some units sustaining wind or water damage.
“The immediate need is making sure we have emergency supplies and are making sure everyone is OK,” says Cady Seabaugh, vice president of communications and sustainability. “The next thing we will look for is getting supplies for the repairs on the islands because there’s going to be a shortage of supplies and contractors.”
The developer has a freight container that is expected to leave Florida today and arrive Saturday in the Virgin Islands. The container includes generators needed for the cistern water systems to ensure residents have access to water, household staples, baby formula, diapers, and satellite communication devices.
Advocates call for action
In another move, hundreds of local and national organizations have signed onto four National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)-led Hurricane Housing Recovery Coalition letters urging the White House and Congress to provide immediate relief to the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and to ensure that federal housing recovery and rebuilding efforts are complete and equitable for all individuals and communities impacted by the devastation of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
NLIHC and more than 540 national, state, and local organizations sent a letter to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan, and Nancy Pelosi calling for urgent action to address the “growing humanitarian crisis” in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. “At a time when the health and well-being of millions of Americans are at risk, Congress and the Administration must take swift action,” the letter states.
More than 500 organizations also signed letters to members of Congress and to senior leadership at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development calling on them to ensure that the federal response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria is complete and equitable for everyone, especially families and individuals with the lowest