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Rescatar nuestra actividad económica: la próxima fase

Poco a poco, el país va retomando su normalidad. Tras el decreto de la última orden ejecutiva de la gobernadora, efectiva desde el pasado 4 de mayo, ciertas actividades económicas comenzaron a formar parte nuevamente de nuestro diario vivir, al tiempo que hemos visto flexibilizarse algunas normas para que los ciudadanos podamos movernos fuera de nuestros hogares.

Al menos, el balance en esta primera etapa de reinicio en la manufactura y la industria de la construcción ha sido favorable. En ambos casos, hemos logrado establecer protocolos de salud y seguridad para prevenir el contagio y proteger la vida de nuestra fuerza trabajadora que, en el caso de la construcción, representa alrededor de 45,000 empleos directos con un impacto inmediato en nuestra economía.

Cierto es que haber asumido el aislamiento físico a tiempo, como medida preventiva para evitar que se disparara la curva de contagio del COVID-19, fue una acción sensata y acertada del gobierno y, lo más importante, nos ha permitido como país asimilar la nueva realidad sociocultural que estamos viviendo, a la vez que vamos perfilando un plan de reinserción económica prudente de mayor alcance. Mas ahora tenemos que pensar en el próximo paso.

Es momento de echar a andar un nuevo capítulo en la agenda de reactivación de nuestra economía y ese es el gran reto al que se enfrentará nuestro gobierno en los próximos días, en unión al sector privado y a los expertos médicos y científicos. Con énfasis en las prácticas de distanciamiento físico, el uso de medidas protectoras y el establecimiento de estrictos protocolos de seguridad laboral, estamos en condiciones de avanzar hacia el restablecimiento de una franja mayor de nuestra actividad económica y social.

Por un lado, tenemos que rescatar las tasas de participación laboral que teníamos antes que nos sorprendiera esta epidemia porque, entre otras cosas, no resulta saludable para ningún país ver cómo sus índices de desempleo se disparan. Para esto, tenemos que trabajar juntos para evitar un desplome mayor.

Los indicadores económicos que circulan a diario en los medios informativos nos alertan de que, en la medida en que mantenemos suspendidas las actividades productivas en áreas de comercio y servicios, por ejemplo, miles de trabajadores, profesionales y pequeños y medianos comerciantes comienzan a sufrir más el impacto de la caída de sus ingresos.

Y esto es una situación que no puede consolarse únicamente con la espera por las ayudas económicas federales porque, como ya hemos visto, la asistencia que se ha dispuesto para que trabajadores y empresarios puedan paliar esta crisis no compensa las pérdidas en las que se ha incurrido.

Si no actuamos, corremos el riesgo de asistir a una profundización mayor de nuestra crisis, con empresas pequeñas, medianas y grandes que no resistan la continuidad de la parálisis.  Por eso tenemos que salir a trabajar, actuando responsablemente, para alcanzar una mayor normalización en todos los órdenes de nuestras vidas.

El COVID-19 nos acompañará por largo tiempo y tenemos que aprender a combatirlo sin anquilosarnos. Tenemos que estar listos para enfrentar los retos que impone la presencia de este virus y de cualquier otro, por nuestro bien y el de las futuras generaciones. Ante este nuevo desafío, y de cara a la nueva orden ejecutiva que la gobernadora deberá anunciar próximamente, algunas actividades que han estado hasta hoy restringidas deben flexibilizarse, como la apertura de toda actividad comercial que se desarrolle en espacios abiertos.

Además, la próxima fase de reapertura debe incluir centros de ventas de autos, mueblerías, comercios al detal, barberías y salones de belleza, entre otros. Asimismo, hay que contemplar la urgente necesidad de viabilizar los espacios para el ocio y el esparcimiento de nuestra ciudadanía. Nada debería impedirnos dar un paseo por algunos de nuestros parques, caminar o ejercitarnos por nuestras calles y disfrutar libremente de nuestras playas.

Eso sí, ninguna actividad económica va por encima del valor que tiene la protección de la vida de nuestra gente. Por eso, el gobierno debe actuar con prudencia y enfatizar en la vigilancia y el rastreo de los contagiados, así como en la disposición de más pruebas, de lo cual es principal responsable.

A su vez, hay que continuar enfatizando en la importancia de las medidas de seguridad laboral, en las prácticas de distanciamiento y en la importancia de cuidarnos. Esa parte nos corresponde cumplirla a todos los puertorriqueños y hemos demostrado gran aplomo en cómo hemos actuado y cumplido con las guías del gobierno, por lo cual el gobierno debe apostar a que todos los sectores de la sociedad estamos dispuestos a realizar el mayor esfuerzo en continuar educando sobre el manejo de esta crisis, con la salud como prioridad, mientras poco a poco retomamos esta nueva normalidad que es ineludible.

La agenda para reactivar nuestra economía no termina con el nuevo decreto que hará la gobernadora. Quedarán pendientes algunas actividades que requieren más evaluación, por tratarse de aquellas que propenden a la aglutinación de mucha gente. Pero vamos paso a paso. Lo importante es no detenernos.


Columna escrita por Alfredo Martínez Álvarez, Jr., presidente de la Asociación de Constructores, y publicada en la sección Punto de Vista del periódico El Nuevo Día

Webcast: Economic Impact of the COVID-19

On Friday, May 1st, 2020, people joined the Economic Impact of the COVID-19 webcast hosted by the Puerto Rico Builders. Moderated by the PRBA treasurer, Waleska Rivera, this seminar focused on the evident impact of the novel virus in the local economy. On her opening remarks, Rivera stated that the PRBA understands that the government’s decision to establish a lockdown, despite being difficult was the right one to make.

The chairman of the board of the PRBA introduced Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González, who explained to the participants her efforts at the federal level and how the different federal aid packages will be distributed locally. González Colón emphasized the reach of the packages that are currently being evaluated by Congress which will be focused on infrastructure, specifically on highways, airports, and everything related to the transportation aspect. The Resident Commissioner paid special attention to the discussion of the usage of the CDBG-DR funds obligated to the Island and stated that she will follow up with the government agencies to get a detailed report on their usage, and expressed her concern on the possibility of the federal government requesting the funds back due to a lack of usage.

Economist Joaquín Villamil, CEO of the Estudios Técnicos firm started his intervention stating the difference between the economic impact faced by Island due to the Coronavirus disease and the economic impact generated by the 2017 hurricanes and the recent earthquakes that have rattled the island. Villamil stated that the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 would not make possible for economists to draw a figure on its direct impact on our economy. The economist also mentioned that the impact at the social level would be very difficult to measure.

In his participation, Villamil established several important topics which included:

  • Total impact of the COVID-19 must include intermediate transactions in the economy that are not necessarily accounted for in the GDP.
  • The small and medium-sized businesses would be the ones with the most evident impact on their daily operations. Reason being due to their lack of Capital and lack of stability on their supply chain.
  • The impact of the COVID-19 on the economy would result in economic disparity, a new balance in economic power at a global level, and would bring uncertainty of what would happen in economic terms.

Villamil continued his participation stating that the emergency funds allocated for the Island due to the COVID-19 would not provide the bases for sustained development and that the funds that have been received had had an impact only at the consumption level but not in the much-needed investment and development. As for the management of the economy in the future, the economist stated that it will be necessary for the non-for-profit organizations and municipalities to assume the leadership role. This will ease the burden of the central government and will facilitate the provision of essential services. The municipalities in Puerto Rico have become an extension of the partisan politics and the only thing that can change that mindset will be the integration of the non-governmental organizations to perform continuous scrutiny of the public work.

As to the CBDG-DR funds, Villamil established that Puerto Rico biggest problem is at the projects execution level when it comes to the usage of the program funds.

Eng. Emilio Colón- Zavala Chairman of the Puerto Rico Business Emergency Operations Center (BEOC) along with Eng. Daneris Fernández and Roberto Toledo advisors of the government-appointed body mentioned that the BEOC prepared some guidelines for the businesses to implement at the moment of reinserting themselves into the economy. Colón-Zavala made clear that the guidelines prepared by the BEOC are only recommendations for companies to prepare their plans and is not mandatory for them to implement.

On the recommendations provided by them to the Governor, Colón Zavala mentioned that with the recommendations of the medical task force, they performed a risk assessment at the health and economic level and established which industries were suitable to return to their business activity. In a way to determine in which of the reopening phases the different industries where placed, data from a study performed by the Graduate School of Public Health of the University of Puerto Rico was utilized. The aforementioned study demonstrated that the construction industry was placed as one of the sectors with the lowest level of risks of contracting the COVID-19, this due to the nature of their job.



Download the presentations given during the webcast:

  1. Iniciativas de estímulo económico federal en relación al coronavirus

  2. ECONOMIC SECTORS RE ACTIVATION

Speakers Presentations | Webinar: The Most Recent Information About the CDBG-DR Programs

On April 21, 2020, the PRBA celebrated its first webinar opened to members and others as a solution to the new challenges that arise within the current COVID-19 situation. We were pleased to count on a highly skilled panel, who discussed the most recent information about the CDBG-DR programs.

As part of the webinar, each speaker shared theses presentations:

CDBG-DR Business Participation in Procurement Processes

Speakers: William G. Ríos Maldonado, Esq., Procurement Director and Laura A. Pagán Santana, Esq., Procurement Deputy Director

Download the presentation: Presentation | Webinar – William G. Ríos Maldonado

 


CDBG-DR PROGRAM UPDATES OPERATIONS UNDER QUARANTINE 

Speaker:  Luis Carlos Fernández Trinchet, ESQ., CFA, Secretary – Puerto Rico Department of Housing

Download the presentationPresentation | Webinar – Lcdo. Luis C. Fernández Trinchet

Recovery Grant for Small Businesses and Microenterprises Who Sufferred Damages due to the Hurricanes

The Government of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Department of Housing (PRDOH) launched the Small Business Financing Program (SBF), financed with funds allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide a Recovery Grants phase (grants awards of up to $50,000) for working capital and moveable equipment for small businesses and microenterprises that suffered physical and/or financial losses due to the hurricanes.

According to the PRDOH, following the Recovery Grant phase, SBF will offer the ability to apply for flexible loans to further implement economic recovery. The Recovery Grants will assist economic recovery across the island by creating new jobs, retaining current employees and attending the urgent need for assistance that many small businesses in Puerto Rico have as a result of damages caused by the storms.

What types of businesses can apply to the program?

  • Small Businesses: defined as a business composed of 75 employees or less.
  • Microenterprises: For the purposes of the CDBG-DR program, a micro-enterprise is a company that has 5 or fewer employees, one or more of whom owns the company. This includes an autonomous individual.
For more information on the eligibility requirements and how to apply, access https://www.cdbg-dr.pr.gov/en/small-business-financing/
or downloads these documents: 
1. ECO_SBF_SOP_User-Submission-Guide_EN_v1
2. One-Pager_Small-Business-Financing_English-1

Hay que pensar en el día de mañana

A más de un mes de haberse proclamado el estado de emergencia que nos mantiene en distanciamiento físico, se acerca el momento de comenzar a evaluar cómo y cuándo podremos ir retomando la normalidad de nuestra sociedad.

No escatimamos el valor que tiene el reclamo del gobierno para mantenernos en casa como una medida preventiva para evitar elevar la curva del contagio del virus letal que nos acecha. Por el contrario, reconocemos y apoyamos la determinación acertada de la gobernadora al tomar medidas preventivas a tiempo y con prudencia.

Sin embargo, el aislamiento físico no puede asumirse como una camisa de fuerza que nos impida contemplar cómo podemos conjugar las medidas de protección de salud, que son necesarias, con alternativas que viabilicen el reinicio de ciertas actividades económicas.

Tenemos que tener presente que, en la medida en que avanzan los días, se hace sentir la preocupación de amplios sectores de la población por las limitaciones económicas que comienzan a enfrentar. Es un hecho que nos obliga a pensar en la urgencia de actuar para evitar que esta crisis de salud pública termine lacerando más nuestra maltrecha situación económica, provocando una profundización de nuestra crisis social. Ahí está nuestro mayor desafío.

Ante eso, el sector privado ha dado un paso al frente presentando alternativas que nos llevan a establecer algunas vías por dónde iniciar el estado de recuperación hacia nuestra normalidad laboral a corto plazo, responsable y gradualmente, y tomando en consideración todas las medidas de seguridad.

La industria de la construcción podría ser el punto de partida para reactivar nuestra actividad económica, máxime si aprovechamos bien que, en este momento, la inmensa mayoría de nuestra ciudadanía aguarda en sus casas y podemos adelantar muchos proyectos de infraestructura que se han quedado pendientes.

Por ejemplo, hay millones de dólares federales asignados a proyectos de desarrollo y recuperación de viviendas, muchos de los que han quedado pendientes por terminar y otros por iniciar. Para eso están los fondos asignados bajo el programa CDBG-DR que son necesarios para garantizarle a nuestra población residencias seguras y resilientes.

Hay permisos de construcción por evaluar y endosos que se han quedado suspendidos en las agencias de gobierno. ¿Por qué no comenzar a adelantar esa tarea? ¿Qué lo impide?

De otra parte, la reparación de nuestras carreteras, así como la terminación de la construcción de nuevas vías y puentes, son tareas que se podrían comenzar de inmediato, justo cuando el tránsito vehicular de nuestras calles es limitado.

Lo mismo ocurre con la reparación de nuestras escuelas públicas, que hasta poco antes del decreto de esta emergencia discutíamos en el país la urgente necesidad de fortalecer sus estructuras luego de constatar que no están preparadas para resistir una actividad sísmica.

¿Qué impide que las carreteras y las escuelas puedan ponerse al día para que cuando regresemos a la normalidad hayamos superado algunos de los contratiempos que sufríamos?

No hay dudas de que, aún en la situación de emergencia que nos encontramos, podemos aprovechar bien este tiempo para ir preparándonos hacia retornar a una nueva normalidad, mientras encaminamos algunas actividades económicas.

Para cumplir con esto, además de la disposición gubernamental, el sector privado tiene que comprometerse con el cumplimiento más estricto de planes de seguridad para proteger a los trabajadores y sus familias. Eso es posible.

En Estados Unidos, el Departamento del Trabajo federal y la Administración de Seguridad y Salud Ocupacional (OSHA, en inglés) han presentado las guías para ir retomando ciertas actividades económicas. Lo mismo ha hecho la Casa Blanca con la publicación recientemente de sus guías para reiniciar la economía.

Todas estas son normas que aplican a Puerto Rico y las que estamos obligados a seguir al pie de la letra para garantizar la salud y seguridad de nuestros trabajadores.

Ya es tiempo de planificar cómo vamos a encaminarnos hacia una nueva normalidad. Hay que pensar en el día de mañana, pero considerando siempre que el reabrir la economía no puede cancelar todos los esfuerzos y sacrificios que hemos tomado en estas últimas semanas con las prácticas de aislamiento físico desde nuestros hogares.

Sabemos que esta nueva normalidad no se logra de la noche a la mañana. Es una tarea que requiere mucha responsabilidad. Por eso, debemos comenzar a trazar esa ruta ya, todos juntos, gobierno y sector privado, todos aferrados a la esperanza de lograr un mejor país.


Columna escrita por Alfredo Martínez-Álvarez, Jr., presidente de la ACPR, y publicada en El Nuevo Día

Letter from Our Chairman

Dear PRBA Member:

We hope that you and your family are well and taking the necessary measures to stay healthy in the midst of the difficult situation we are facing.

After the 2017 hurricanes, and the earthquakes of January 2020, the Puerto Rico Builders Association (PRBA) has constantly called for reinvention and resilience. Today, we urge you to reflect on the different challenges that we face as a country.

The latest challenge brought forth by COVID-19 at a global level has led us to evaluate the need to strengthen and reinforce our actions at the family and community levels, so that the steps we take allow us to reinsert ourselves into the new norms and styles of coexistence. These types of events are the ones that give us the opportunity to analyze our vision, as well as outlining the actions that we must implement in new ways of doing business.

In the midst of the uncertainty that this new reality has brought, the PRBA continues to actively work with an internal task force outlining strategies that allow us to establish ourselves, in a safe way, as active collaborators in the quick recovery of the economic and social sector of our island.

Our Chairman actively participated in meetings with the Governor to represent the PRBA and contribute with solutions for this time of change.

As part of our efforts, we have been in direct and continuous contact with government authorities, providing them with recommendations at the short- and medium-term levels for the benefit of our industry, our members and Puerto Rico. In several communications efforts, the PRBA shared a series of suggestions with the Hon. Wanda Vázquez Garced, Governor of Puerto Rico, aimed at implementing strategies that guarantee the well-being of our members, as well as of all the families whose livelihood depends on the controlled reactivation of the activity on the construction industry. These suggestions include:

Construction

  • Classify outdoor construction projects as critical infrastructure.
  • Issue an administrative order to exempt construction projects from the ordinary process of obtaining certified permits to be presented to the OGPe or Autonomous Municipalities for a three-month period, in accordance with the agreement in Article 7 of Law No. 76-2000, as amended, known as the “Law of Procedures for Situations or Emergency Events.”
  • Exempt applications for construction permits from the presentation of the permit and the duty fee payments, when complying with the following:
    • Categorical Exclusions as evidence of environmental compliance.
    • Documents (plot plans and specifications) certified by a licensed engineer or architect, as disposed by the Certification Law.
    • Preparation of certified inspection reports required during the construction stage.

Mortgage Closings

  • Make it viable for mortgage closings to be performed remotely by authorizing the following:
    • Notary at a distance, using the available telecommunication methods without the face-to-face requirement.
    • Authorize the appraisers’ visit to those properties up for inspection, respecting the social distancing measures.
    • Authorize for the mortgage closing to be performed remotely so they don’t have to be face-to-face, or they can take place following social distancing measures.
    • Allow payments in real estate transactions to be electronically processed.
  • Extend the benefits of Law 216 of 2011, as amended (no CRIM payments, no stamp payments, etc.), for a period of five years.
  • Make viable the inscription of those sales and purchases at the CRIM through virtual methods.

Design Evaluations

  • Government agencies must continue with the evaluation of those projects in the design stage that have yet to be certified. It could be done remotely, to avoid stopping the development of new projects.

IVU (sales tax) and B2B

  • Continue with the exemption in the collection of the IVU and B2B for certified projects.
  • Exempt certified projects from excise payments.

Legislature

  • We recommend that the Executive and Legislative branches work together in the search for alternatives so that many of the companies that are already facing a difficult economic situation can continue operating during and after this crisis, and so that their employees can keep their jobs.

Efforts with the Federal Government

  • It is necessary for the Government of Puerto Rico to request waivers with the pertinent agencies that allow, among other things:
    • Raise the FHA up to 225% of the limit, as it happened back in 2008, for a period between 2 to 3 years.
    • Abolish the 72-hour period for the HUD disclosure.
    • Eliminate concentration risk from FHA requirements (delinquency, among others) in condominiums.

In the midst of this health emergency, we have also aimed to keep active pressing issues that affect our members. We have participated in several meetings with government representatives and members of professional organizations to address with a sense of urgency those issues that remain in the pipeline and which affect us directly.

Meetings with Resident Commissioner

  • We recently met with the resident commissioner, the Hon. Jenniffer González, who has heard our concerns on the state of the construction industry and the handling of the economic stimulus packages granted by the federal government.

Meetings with the Department of Housing

  • To that end, we have also met with the Secretary of Housing, Luis Carlos Fernández, and Dennis González, PE, Department of Housing undersecretary, to delve into the measures taken to ensure the continuity in the use of the CDBG-DR funds, in addition to reactivating the conversation on our concerns about the new hurricane season.

Meetings with Representative Antonio “Tony” Soto

  • We participated in several meetings with representative Antonio “Tony” Soto to discuss the need to abolish the Tax on Inventory. This is in addition to the actions taken in conjunction with the Private Sector Coalition to join efforts aimed at supporting our membership as well as small- and medium-sized merchants.

NAHB

  • In addition to the efforts made at the government level, we have been collecting information in meetings with organizations at the national level, such as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This will give us the opportunity to carry out an in-depth analysis on the impact that the novel COVID-19 situation will bring to our industry and the actions that have been taken in different states to manage the results that this crisis brings. This will help us identify strategies and protocols we can implement in the management of future situations at the local level. At the same time, we are focusing our efforts so that in the midst of this crisis we continue to build in a safe, efficient and resilient way.

Dear member, we will continue directing our efforts to outline the necessary strategies that will ease the way we do business during this crisis, and which allow our industry to be reaffirmed as one of the economic pillars of our island, during times like the one we are facing today.

Be safe!

Alfredo Martínez-Álvarez, Jr.
Chairman of the Board


 

 

 

Recent Workshops and Actions

Workshops

The Requirement Guidelines for Housing Vouchers Under the CDBG-DR R3 Program
In March we celebrated a workshop about the CDBG- DR funds with the Department of Housing Undersecretary, Dennis González, PE, and Doel Muñiz, PE, Director for the CDBG-DR.
Dennis González, PE, CDBG-DR Program Undersecretary, and Alfredo Martínez-Álvarez, Jr., PRBA Chairman.
National Green Building Standard (NGBS) Certification Orientation

Last month, Michelle Foster, vice president of sustainability for the Home Innovation Research Labs, and Steven Armstrong, expert on green building science and accredited verifier for the National Green Building Standard (NGBS Green) traveled to the island to present a seminar about the NGBS Green Building Certification.

Alfredo Martínez-Álvarez, Jr., PRBA Chairman, along with workshop speakers Michelle Foster, Home Innovation Research Labs Vice President; and Steven Armstrong, expert on the Building Science and Accredited Verifier for NGBS Green.

Public Hearings

Waleska Rivera, PRBA Board Treasurer (at the bottom right), presented a speech about salary equity.

Salary Equity  – Download the speech presented by Waleska Rivera, PRBA Board Treasurer: Salary Equity Speech | March 10, 2020

Regulations Under Act No. 73 of 2019 – Download the speech presented: Regulations Under Act No. 73 of 2019 | March 12, 2020

Letters

PRBA’s Position Regarding Project 2428

Download letter sent to Senate and House of Representatives: Letter to Senate and House of Representatives | March 18, 2020

PRBA’s Position Regarding the Executive Orden Under the COVID-19 Situation

Download letter sent to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced: Letter to Governor | March 24,2020