Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico

by Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico


Last week Puerto Rico experience an island-wide blackout. In some regions, the power outage lasted for four days. Access to energy is essential for many, particularly for elders and people with disabilities or chronic conditions. The fragility of the energy grid is one of the consequences of neglected disasters. The impact of austerity joined that of major hurricanes. Privatization and negligent management, speculation, and resistance to adopt a climate justice perspective on energy have aggravated the crisis. Three months before the hurricane season starts, we see the phantom of neglect everywhere. With thousands of houses under blue tarps five years after María, only a few thousand families have received adequate assistance to repair or rebuild their houses, and with a worsening tendency to displacement, we need to call the government to act now


While we reiterate our demands of just recovery, we start our disaster readiness journey this month. We will be training lawyers, housing counselors, community leaders, and social workers on the essential legal tools they need to accompany survivors after an emergency. We hope that this workshop will pave the way to reinforce community protocols, given the lack of official plans to prevent, mitigate and attend crises.


Disasters may not be fashionable at this moment. When crises occur, there is a window of support and solidarity that closes too soon, although essential and life-saving. The sequels of disasters - the aggravated precarity- are often unseen. Supporting and donating to Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico and this project shifts that narrative and promotes long-term recovery and climate justice. Donate now. We can do more. 

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Although 2021 did not bring a new active disaster to Puerto Rico, disasters have grown exponentially, feeding on the vulnerabilities of governmental neglect, the multiple crisis, and the isolation of survivors. Data provides a snapshot on the unmet needs: 1. It is still estimated that 14,000-18,000 houses still have provisional blue tarps as roofs, 4 years after hurricane María; 2. Out of 27,000 applicants to housing recovery funds, nly 300 homes have been rebuilt and only 1300 repaired

.Because disasters have a disparate impact that is still palpable, community leaders were recently able to voice their demands and concerns regarding civil rights violations commited by recovery agents in the aftermath of Irma and María. The stories told signal to an unfinished recovery process that threatens not only their homes but also their possibility of dignified living. This is our context and the ground of our commitment.

Beyond first response, disasters have a long term impact in communities, particularly in places where inequality is constant. With your support our Just Recovery program has been able to complete another cycle. This is our fourth year accopanying disaster survivors. In 2021 we gathered nearly 550 participations in know your right workshops and not Disasters have a long term impact in communities, particularly in places where inequality is constant.

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As we enter the peak of the hurricane season, we strengthen our efforts to accompany survivors and highlight their unmet needs. The progress of housing recovery is devastatingly slow. Today, less than 130 houses have been rebuilt and 1200 hundred repaired with CDBG-DR funds. In a universe of 27,000 applicants - 20,100 active as per the local housing agencies- the small scale of governmental response regarding the major hurricanes of 2017 is shocking. At the same time, the well-being of families affected by several disasters receives less attention as days, months, and years pass. They are at risk of being forgotten.

At Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico we continue promoting legal empowerment as a response to invisibility. Accompanying survivors permits us to understand that although their precarity rises - by the loss of safe housing, unemployment, increased poverty, and inequality, the impact of other disasters- their needs remain constant. Asks for housing and alternatives to displacement are their main asks.

Legal empowerment goes beyond traditional aid and asks how to change a system that promotes such inequality. The experience of these families informs our advocacy roadmap, one that acknowledges and sees them, while demanding the government to ensure equitable and agile access to recovery funds, zero forced displacements, and real participation. This is a guide forward.

Throughout this project, we aim to continue this accompaniment and to achieve transformation. We know we can win together. Today, we want to invite you to stay tuned to our website - ayudalegalpuertorico.org/publicaciones - and read the latest report, Towards a Just Recovery (Third Report), to be published this Thursday 26, 2021. Learn more about the work you are supporting. Continue accompanying us. 


En solidaridad,


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June 1, 2021, marks the start of a new hurricane season. Many predict this will be an active season, a fact that's ever-present within a global climate crisis. Anxiety starts building up as uncertainty about the Government's disaster planning grows. Consequences of major hurricanes Irma and María, the impacts of the seismic events of 2020, and the pandemic are neglected and summed up. Housing insecurity is a reality for thousands living under blue tarps, insecure constructions, and dwellings that await disaster assistance. At the same time, families across the board are less likely to have the necessary funds to prepare for a disaster. For us, as legal responders aware of our ethical and political duty to accompany families while their demand their right to just recovery, it's our moment to get ready. We can only do that with your support.

In this brief report, I share with you some data to let you know how the first three months of 2021 are shaping this disaster legal aid project. I hope you can understand the needs and vulnerability and the interest of a whole population to recover equitably. I hope you decide to continue supporting us. 

As climate change continues to affect our Island through sea-level rise, flooding, more extreme atmospheric events, and droughts, disaster legal aid with a legal empowerment perspective is urgent.

This is how this projects 2021 is going.

  • Two hundred people received legal accompaniment through our helplines. These numbers include earthquakes and hurricane survivors, also people seeking assistance to receive public aid during the pandemic.
  • 145 participated in KYR workshops on rights and disasters, with a focus on housing.
  • 67% of the people who receive support from ALPR are women. 
  • Questions revolve around public assistance on employment, the need for transitory housing, public housing, and unresponded assistance requests.

During the next month, while we advocate for the Government to adopt a just recovery geared disaster plan, we will be hosting community workshops, free education for pro bono attorneys, and other opportunities to develop capacity towards this season. We will remain present at all times, thanks to your support.

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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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Organization Information

Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico

Location: San Juan - Puerto Rico
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @ayudalegalpr
Project Leader:
Ariadna Godreau
San Juan, Puerto Rico
$15,405 raised of $20,000 goal
44 donations
$4,595 to go
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