Several homes that suffered severe damage in Hurricane María in a distressed sector of Guaynabo called Vietnam were in urgent need of repair. The leadership team of the College of Architects and Landscape Architects (CAAPPR, Spanish acronym) knew there was a pressing need to rebuild homes and they had the expertise to identify the repairs needed to make the structures stronger to resist future disasters, but they lacked the operational arm to carry out these repairs.
That is when they turned to Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico) to explain their interest in helping the community of Vietnam. The sector, which at one time had been the home to 720 families, had dwindled down to 270 families after repeated efforts to expropriate the community by government officials.
“At Unidos we knew which nonprofit organizations had the capacity and knowhow to carry out the work that CAAPPR needed and thus we recommended that they create an alliance and pair up with PathStone,” said Mariely Rivera, Executive Director, of Unidos Por Puerto Rico. PathStone is a not-for-profit community development and human services organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and strengthening families and individuals since 1969 in communities.
With the partnership in place, Diana Luna, President of the CAAPPR, explained the $200,000 grant from Unidos has been used to purchase materials to rebuild the homes. In addition, volunteers from CAAPPR have conducted a workshop for area residents on how to secure roofs and other parts of the homes to make them sturdier in the face of severe storms.
“With this project, we are using our expertise to shore up homes in communities in need such as Vietnam,” said Diana. PathStone is contributing an additional $215,000 to pay for the capital need assessments, design, insurance, contractors and construction employees to rebuild the homes. María Rodríguez, who runs PathStone Housing Division in Puerto Rico, said the organization has plans to expand its reach in Vietnam in the face of great need. The organization, which first came to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Georges in 1998, has been active in housing and economic development efforts on the island with projects in the south, west and central region.
Both organizations were able to select the homes targeted for rebuilding based on the recommendations of the Vietnam community board. The board identified seven families who live in six homes in extremely precarious conditions. These families had nowhere to turn to; they had no private insurance and FEMA had denied petitions for funds not based on need but due to issues with property titles. María expects construction on the homes to be concluded by March 31st.
Meanwhile, Diana says members of CAAPPR have been galvanized by the work in Vietnam and have created a working committee to support community work.