A manual to survive the effects of extreme weather for island homes

A group from Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise)  visited Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria to find ways to help the island recover and rebuild thriving communities.

Puerto Rico was not the only jurisdiction hit by the destructive hurricane season of 2017, which also touched the Florida Keys and the U.S.  Virgin Islands. In response to the devastation of homes and communities, Enterprise created the Climate Strong Islands Initiative (CSII) for Puerto Rico, the Florida Keys and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Erika Ruiz, Director, Enterprise Advisors.

The initiative has the support of the New York Community Trust, the Hurricane Relief Fund, U.S. Caribbean Strong Relief Fund at The Miami Foundation, Unidos por Puerto Rico and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. “CSII ties the recovery effort to existing and immediate infrastructure needs and meeting the capacity needs of the communities, all while improving opportunities for low-income families to thrive and sustain future weather impacts.”

Enterprise was particularly well-equipped to take on the challenge in Puerto Rico.  “They know the community well, they have financed affordable housing options in the past in Puerto Rico and are connected to highly respected housing and community experts on the island,” said Mariely Rivera, Executive Director of Unidos por Puerto Rico. Thus, “when they presented a proposal to create a manual for more resilient homes and communities, we immediately saw its value,” according to Mariely.

Laurie Schoeman, Enterprise Senior Program Director, National Initiatives, Resilience, explained work on the manual took off after holding meetings with groups with a say on planning and housing on the island, including students from the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Architecture, the Homebuilders Association, architect Ricardo Álvarez Díaz and Puerto Rico’s Housing Secretary and communities, among others. “What would it look like to build affordable and resilient housing” with communities capable of facing a disaster like María in the future, is the driving question that the manual is to address.

Enterprise’s take on the manual is to include content that goes beyond what are the type of windows, doors, construction materials and techniques that need to be used to prepare a home to withstand disasters. That type of information is present in the guide, but Laurie explained the manual will address resiliency from a wider perspective. For example, it will include a chapter on energy and consider how to prepare a home for months of no power, which is what Puerto Rico experienced.

So, if it were to happen again, how do you provide for natural light, ventilation and other energy needs. Low-cost options will be presented as well as alternatives for those able to spend more, but always from the perspective of promoting affordability.

Laurie added that it will also include a chapter on what to grow food for sustenance around the home. Another important item to be included is the testimony of community leaders whose communities fared better after coming together to deal with many daily trials faced after Hurricane Maria. Some of the manual contributors include renowned urban planner and author Lucilla Fuller Marvel.  She has worked with communities for nearly 50 years, since founding Taller de Planificación Social.

Once the document is ready to be published this summer, the idea is to make it a “living manual,” according to Laurie.  The manual will be distributed around the island and be available on the web for wide accessibility.  Also, Laurie explained that Enterprise wants to provide training sessions for the manual.  The timing is right as the CDBG Recovery funds should begin to flow in this year. Laurie hopes the manual will be used in housing projects that will be built with the funds.

The manual is in line with the CSII strategy, which is to make sure that recovery efforts “create an infrastructure of community leaders and organizations committed to equitable and responsive communities, as well as build infrastructure that can safeguard homes and communities from future risk. Local community development organizations are critical to its success, as they are stewards of the recovery process.”

For more information on Enterprise Partners and CSII, visit their site at https://www.enterprisecommunity.org/solutions-and-innovation/disaster-recovery-and-rebuilding/climate-strong-islands-initiative.For information on Unidos por Puerto Rico, visit unidosporpuertorico.com.

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