America’s Second Largest Public Housing Authority: The Unique Case of Puerto Rico

This article was created before the devastating hurricane that hit a week ago.  Puerto Rico sustained over 1 billion dollars in damage and many of the residents are still without electricity and power.  Another major hurricane is on the way as of writing (9/19/17) and it is hard know how bad the damage will be.  Please consider our friends both in social housing and on the Island as you read this case study.

I often speak to friends who talk about the dream of living on an island.  However; island life does not necessarily mean paradise.   I recently had the opportunity to interview Joaquin Cintron Vega, PHM digitally.  Joaquin works at the Puerto Rico Housing Authority and took some time to talk about day to day life and operations at America’s second largest housing agency.  It is important to understand that Puerto Rico is an interesting case study because it is not a U.S. state but an unincorporated U.S. territory.  It is unique because for such a small area, it has an amazing amount of public housing.

Because of the its status, there are some interesting issues that arise in regards to how Puerto Rico funds and handles their financial business.  The hurricanes are in example.  There are many who fear that Puerto Rico’s needs for emergency money will be over-shadowed by the needs for money in Florida and Texas.   The island has suffered from long-term financial issues and austerity measures have left Puerto Rico in a tough situation in regards to public infrastructure.  45.5% of all the inhabitants of the island fall below the USA federal poverty standards.   In addition, many are fleeing the island for better employment opportunities in the continental USA.

The Basics:

The Puerto Rico Public Housing Administrations (PRPHA) is the second largest social housing agency in the USA. The PRPHA has a portfolio of over 340 projects which include over 55,000 units. The agency employees 363 employees spread into the COCC and regional offices across the island.  As mentioned above, Puerto Rico is not a U.S. state but an unincorporated U.S. territory.

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Children Playing-Photo credit PR Government website

Present Challenges

The agency faces the challenge of dealing with a large amount of projects and contracts with eleven management agents companies for their administration. Each company receives an operational budget to administer each of the properties.

In addition, the authority is facing a big challenge that is the economic issues regarding Puerto Rico’s debt. Although the agency is a recipient of federal funds, it does not act like other PHAs on the mainland.  the Puerto Rico Housing Authority  is considered an integral part of the Puerto Rico Government. All of the restraining state/local laws and regulations generally applies to the organization. From a budgetary standpoint they must make adjustments to comply with such laws and regulations.

The Nitty Gritty:

The agency’s central office cost center composed of nine operational and programmatic areas (including the administrator’s Office) and a governing board. The agency also has 10 Regional Offices for monitoring (Asset Management) and direct services purposes (Selection and Occupancy- Resident Services). The Projects are distributed between eleven Management Agents Companies (An average of 31 per MA) that administer their operations. Currently the agency receives funds from the Operating Fund Program, the Capital Fund Program and Replacement Housing Factor.

The agency is still dealing with the remains of transactions from the Capital Financing Fund Program, the Low Income Housing Tax Credits (Including 33 Modernized Projects from 2008 to 2012 and a new transaction that is currently taking place for 3 additional projects). The Agency also received funds from the HOME and Drug Elimination Programs and has a home-ownership program that is on its closing stages. Also, the housing authority successfully drew down the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds granted. Aside from the Tenant’s Services Operational Budget accounts, the Agency publish periodically a Request for Proposals for Resident Services to provide more activities to our clientele that are in line with the current administration’s mission, vision and policy for the Agency.

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Residents: Photo Credit to PR Website

Future Projects:

The agency is working on three developments that are expected to have a community impact of inclusion from all the social factions on the island. Those developments are to receive private market, section 8 and public housing tenants that should enjoy a community that includes a myriad of different services that will be available to them on site: professional offices for integral services and other on-site providers that typically are not present in a traditional Public Housing community.

Conclusion:

Although the Puerto Rico Housing Authority has unique needs because they are an island housing agency, they also deal with many of the issues that other organizations do from around the world.  Like all other housing agencies around the world, the Puerto Rico Housing Authority will continue to try and do its best to serve as many families as possible in an atmosphere where funding is not where it needs to be.

Author: jcrites

Josh Crites is an American social housing professional with both practical and research experience. He has worked at 3 social housing companies in the USA in roles ranging from policy and operations to process improvement and strategy. Josh is a former Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellow. During that fellowship, Josh researched and worked with social housing companies in Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, England, Estonia and Spain. He is an avid writer and advocate for the provision of social housing around the world.

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