Mar 8, 2021

Ready, set, go? Legal empowerment is a process

 

Legal empowerment is not a race but a process. It requires a lot of conversations, discussions on principles and methodologies, connections, and needs assessments. This initial stage of interviewing community groups and leaders that will be part of the Legal Empowerment Curriculum has been powerful and rich. We are gathering the resources during this first stage, working with groups to select the community that will host this project, and start designing a collaborative curriculum.

We have learned a lot of things. First of all, is the fact that many of the impoverished communities in Puerto Rico live at the intersection of displacements and climate crisis. Speculation over the land, the lack of assistance to repair roofs after hurricane María affected more than 472,000 houses in 2017, and the 2020 earthquakes destroyed nearly 800 residential structures, outmigration because of poverty, and the high cost of rents and mortgages are common. Similarly, coastal communities live with the threat of sea-level rise, hurricanes, storm surges, and floods. During our interviews, systemic inequalities were highlighted. Racism, discrimination against female households, and elders' vulnerability are part of displacement and climate crisis violence that must be addressed as part of the curriculum. We are willing to do so. Community paralegals will be a significant contribution to these spaces.

We are happy to say that we finally met the group that will be the facilitator and community host of this project. It is El Ancón in Loíza. To learn more about this place's history, group, and advocacy asks, please visit this website. https://www.elancondeloiza.com

Our next steps include a community legal needs assessment and the curriculum's start, where storytelling and legal strategies will be combined. We, who are accustomed to moving quickly, acknowledge that this project has a different speed, one grounded on intention strategy and exchange of knowledge.

Please stay tuned. We want to have you here for the rest of the run.

Feb 14, 2021

Housing is a human right. Protect it.

We launched this project, Legal Empowerment to Stop Foreclosures Puerto Rico, in December 2019. After dedicating two whole years to disaster legal aid and nearly four years to developing an anti-foreclosure program, we were asking ourselves how to sustain legal accompaniment at times of crisis. Participants of our workshops, people who called to our hotline or met us at community legal brigades, had just survived multiple disasters: 2017 hurricanes, unemployment, and the constant demands of financial institutions demanding unreal payments in exchange for housing. Little did we know that just months later, we would be facing earthquakes and a pandemic that would last nearly a year. Legal empowerment work regarding protections against foreclosure is now more urgent than ever. Your support has been instrumental. It is present on every phone call, every legal document we file, every workshop we carry out, and every piece of free legal education we share with a family desperately trying to keep their house. When we ask how we will sustain this work, till it is necessary, till it can empower and accompany those who fear homelessness because of foreclosures, every single one of your donations, emails, and support answers, "you will do it, with us. Thank you for accompanying Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico.

Since the last time we shared information about our impact, we have continued to assist people at risk of foreclosure using our helplines and education efforts. Just in 2021, we have provided free legal assistance to 37 people via our helplines. Thirty-eight individuals participated in our workshop on moratoriums and rights. A rise in concerns about the impending end of moratoriums and individuals' capacity to retain their homes is evident. 

The context is not promising. Between January and September 2020, 897 homes were foreclosed. Between March 15 (when the COVID-19 quarantine started) and December 31, 2020, 257 new foreclosure cases were presented at the courts. The crisis doesn't stop because of disasters. It worsens.

We decided to keep this project open to let donors show their support during their first semester of 2021. We are about to secure the funding to continue the Legal Empowerment Program for a whole extra year, and we want to ask you to continue amplifying this call. 

Links:

Dec 26, 2020

Everything is possible when we work to accompany

2020 has been one of the most challenging years we have experienced. Together, we faced earthquakes, a pandemic, the overdue housing needs of hurricane survivors, the threat to our children's right to education, the loss of jobs, and the loss of loved ones. 2020 limited who and when we hug. This pain, forever linked to this year, connects us and has shaped how we - as human rights lawyers - work. Through every disaster, we at Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico have found a way to show up and support the right to housing, receive adequate assistance, and access public assistance. This work has only been possible with your continuous support.

With you, we continued to socialize legal education for disaster survivors, particularly in areas of employment, housing, and public assistance. We expanded our services to provide free legal support to immigrants and had an operating legal helpline – chat and phone!- virtually available at all times for people in need. Together, in 2020 we offered legal accompaniment to 6,000 people and free and accessible legal information to 2 million people through ayudalegalpr.org. Advocacy work, directed to make the people who await housing visible for the governmental agencies, was also possible. And we won this year important fights, such as supporting disaster survivors' claims to repair and rebuild their houses even if they don't have a formal title and the communities' right to mitigate before being forcibly relocated.

While we prepare to wrap up this project – only to expand our disaster legal empowerment work – we thank you. Together, the present and the future are still possible. A just world is possible.

If you are still thinking about a great holiday gift, consider donating to Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico. Every donation is important.

 
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