Building a prototype to withstand strong hurricanes

Hurricane María destroyed approximately 70,000 homes in Puerto Rico, which is why the College of Engineers and Land Surveyors saw the need to contribute its expertise to build homes that could withstand stronger hurricanes.

“In the wake of María, we saw an opportunity to showcase what a resilient home should be as we donated our expertise to oversee the construction of three homes for people who had lost their houses,” explained Pablo Vázquez, president of the College of Engineers and Land Surveyors (CIAPR,  Spanish acronym).  To achieve its goal, the College first joined forces with the College of Architects and Landscape Architects and three organizations that jointly spearhead the participatory, comprehensive and equitable recovery and development of a community that suffered severe losses as a result of the hurricane and which are in the heart of the San Juan metropolitan area.

Pablo explained that this working-class community has been organized for years to implement the ENLACE Martín Peña Project with the goal of improving their living conditions and ensuring the permanence of their neighborhoods. The area includes eight neighborhoods along the environmentally degraded Martín Peña tidal channel in Hato Rey and Santurce.  They created the Fideicomiso de la Tierra, an innovative community land trust that received the United Nations World Habitat Award. The Fideicomiso is providing the land on which to build the homes and together with the grassroots organization that represents the eight neighborhoods, the G-8, they have selected three families in urgent need of housing.

CIAPR partnered with the College of Architects and Landscape Architects, the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE, the G-8, and the Fideicomiso to launch a competition for “Mi Casa Resistente” (My Resilient Home).    In March of last year, the prototype winner was selected. The winning concept was designed by a team led by architect Fernando Abruña, well known for this green and sustainable designs and also the founder of the US Green Building Council Caribbean Chapter. After winning the contest, the Abruña team donated the work needed to submit the plans for construction.

To build the homes, CIAPR obtained a grant from Unidos por Puerto Rico, for$210,000 to build the three homes.  However, construction costs rose steeply in Puerto Rico after the hurricane.  Adding to the costs, a new more rigorous construction code that was implemented, further increasing the cost of building the homes.  By then the cost of each home to be built had risen to $100,000, not including the cost of the land which was donated by the Fideicomiso de la Tierra.  The G-8, with a grant from Global Giving, donated $100,000 to complete project construction with its increased costs.

“We believe that with economies of scale the cost of these homes will go down.  Their value lies in their design and construction as resilient and sustainable structures,” he explained.

“These homes, which are being developed with grassroots participation and amazing partners, will help three families  who are living in dire conditions and become part of the wider strategy being implemented to ensure safe and adequate housing for all of our residents in our communities,” said Lucy Cruz, president of G-8.

Unidos por Puerto Rico contributed an additional amount to pay rent for four months ensuring the families live in safe conditions while the homes are built. After that period, the G-8 will continue paying the rent until the houses are ready for the residents to move in.  Lucy explained that the organization chose three elderly, hard-working residents to be the beneficiaries of the new homes.  The hurricane left their homes significantly damaged, uninhabitable, and unsafe.

Pablo said the CIAPR faced the challenge of a permit process that does not consider the reality of hundreds of self-built, informal settlements in Puerto Rico, some of which, as the communities along the Caño, have existed for over 100 years. “Our experience with this project should serve as a lesson to rethink public policy.” Otherwise, the process of recovery of low- income communities with similar characteristics will be uphill, he cautioned.

“At Unidos por Puerto Rico, we have seen the many challenges tied to rebuilding homes. We hope this project serves as a model to build homes in other communities, both in terms of the design and construction as well as the need for collaboration among many entities including the prominent participation of community residents,” said Mariely Rivera, executive director of Unidos por Puerto Rico.  The permit process needs to account for the needs of communities such as those around Caño Martín Peña, she added.

Finally, the CIAPR, through its Foundation, will oversee the contractor who won the bid.  The three homes should be ready by September 2019.

icrossingAdminBuilding a prototype to withstand strong hurricanes