Apr 30, 2020

Another disaster, response becomes more urgent

COVID-19 is a disaster, as are hurricanes and earthquakes. The impact of the pandemic in Puerto Rico has worsened a sequence of three years of disasters that – together with a negligent governmental response- has impaired the chances of making a dignified life in the Island. When we proposed this project, we were focused on providing legal support and education to safeguard families the chance to recover from earthquakes that, once again, left them without shelter. We were appalled by the precarity of those who had lost houses to hurricanes, foreclosures, evictions and now seismic sequences, many of them sleeping on the streets or on unsuitable terrains, waiting for assistance that we knew would be delayed.  Little did we know that two months later we would be facing another disaster. Similar to what has happened across the world, COVID-19 has left people without jobs and resources to guarantee food, health and housing, And as in any disaster, it is the impoverished communities and groups – tenants, elders, women- who are in worse conditions to face it. 

Before COVID-19 and thanks to your help, we had the chance to develop multiple legal education materials on earthquakes, available at www.ayudalegalpr.org and recuperacionjustapr.org. We launched a campaign to guarantee the access to assistance for families without a formal title over their affected houses. At brigades, visiting informal camps for the displaced, we provided direct assistance to 156 families. We provided training for more than 200 attorneys and students and invested nearly 504 pro bono hours helping families affected by earthquakes. Your support, among the support of other organizations, permitted us to that in less than two months.

Once again, legal support is essential to guarantee the exercise of rights and access to available public assistance, defend the right to housing and access to justice for families and communities in need. We have developed the first legal responses to hurricanes, earthquakes and now before the pandemic, offering multiple avenues of legal assistance and advocacy to low income families and communities around the Island. We intend to continue this work, using hotlines, legal support through chat, legal education using tech to reach people, and at brigades as soon as it is possible once again. 

We received notification about the opportunity to make the proposed project more flexible. This project is still urgent. We are a month away from a hurricane season, with increased housing vulnerability, without recovery at any level, without suitable shelters, with COVID-19. We want to ask for your support to expand this program to include disasters beyond earthquakes, including COVID-19 response and the next hurricane season preparedness. The focus will remain the same: disaster legal aid response. We ensure that the funds will be used wisely and commit to the maximum level of accountability. We wish you love, health and strength. Fuerza. 

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Feb 28, 2020

Earthquakes, foreclosures and empowerment

Since December 28th of last year, more than 500 new foreclosure complaints have been filed in local courts.  That date marks the beginning of a series of earthquakes that severely affected the Island, wreaking havoc across municipalities in the southern and mountainous central region. Those seismic events worsened the already precarious conditions of housing in Puerto Rico.  Thousands of families, unable, or afraid, to return to their homes, slept on the streets, in public squares and turned baseball parks into makeshift shelters. 

The earthquakes, however, did not stop legal summons from arriving in people’s mail. While subsisting on donations and without access to basic assistance, or afraid of further harm caused by subsequent seismic events, families continued to be summoned to court . Under these conditions, no one is able to adequately defend their rights. 

Days after the disasters, our Legal Empowerment Against Foreclosure (LEAF) program took to the streets, alerted the media, visited shelters and encampments, and collaborated with concerned institutions to advocate for the protection of the rights of families and individuals at risk of foreclosure. 

We gathered statistics to demonstrate the impact of foreclosures on a post disaster Puerto Rico. Lawyers supported by this project went to the camps and attended calls via hotlines to assist those summoned, or already undergoing cases, or those being asked for payments by their banks or at risk of not complying with their mortgage loans. We amplified concrete advocacy demands such as a request for financial institutions to offer voluntary and just moratoriums, demands to ensure the payment and response of insurance companies, a stop on the filing of complaints and more. These demands received extensive and rigorous press coverage. .

During the coming months we will be framing the disasters within the larger context of the structural vulnerability of families in Puerto Rico, attending specifically to women and elders. This will help visibilize the extent of the foreclosure crisis and its grave and now undeniable impact across the island population. Our goal is to provide platforms for support, accompaniment and transformation. Housing is a human right.

 
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