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Puerto Rico to get HUD funding to rebuild hurricane-damaged housing, infrastructure

The funds can be used for housing, economic development and infrastructure, as well as to help repair the island’s crippled power grid.

by Reuters /
Angel Rodriguez poses next to his belongings in front of his house, destroyed by Hurricane Maria, in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico on Sept. 30, 2017.Ramon Espinosa / AP file

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico will receive $18.5 billion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help rebuild its battered housing stock and infrastructure after September’s Hurricane Maria, the island’s governor and HUD officials said on Tuesday.

The funding for the U.S. territory was the largest grant in the history of the HUD, said HUD undersecretary Pamela Patenaude.

But the award was significantly less than the $46 billion requested by Governor Ricardo Rosselló in November.

HUD is awarding a total of roughly $28 billion to nine states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that have been recently affected by major disasters, including Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria, as well as the recent California wildfires.

The funds are part of a $90 billion disaster aid package signed by Trump in February. The Virgin Islands is set to receive $1.6 billion in HUD disaster recovery funds, a department media advisory said on Tuesday.

Rosselló said at a news conference that he expected to adjust Puerto Rico’s fiscal turnaround plan to reflect the full grant. The most recent version of the plan pegged at $13 billion the amount of funds from HUD that the commonwealth expected to receive.

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Puerto Rico is navigating the largest bankruptcy in U.S. government history, and the plan is meant to establish economic projections that will serve as a basis for forthcoming restructuring talks with creditors owed $120 billion in bond and pension debt.

Rosselló and Patenaude made the announcement in Villa Hugo, a low-income community in Canóvanas that sustained severe damage when Maria hit the island on Sept. 20.

Much of Villa Hugo’s 6,000 residents built their homes informally, and do not own title to their properties.

“Informal” construction — which can also refer to property owners who illegally subdivide their land — is thought to comprise between one-fourth and one-half of Puerto Rico’s 1.2 million homes.

The prevalence of informal housing, which often does not comply with building codes, was thought to compound damage to Puerto Rico’s housing stock when the storm hit.

The HUD funds can be used for housing, economic development and infrastructure, and could be used to help repair the island’s crippled power grid. While local authorities determine where funds will be used, HUD provides technical assistance and guidelines, Patenaude said.

Maria was a vicious blow to an already struggling island that has been in recession for more than a decade, with a poverty rate near 50 percent.

Puerto Rico now projects to receive roughly $50 billion during the next six years in federal disaster relief assistance, mostly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the government’s latest fiscal turnaround plan.

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