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Se renueva el programa de Becas de la Asociación de Constructores de Puerto Rico con la colaboración del Grupo Guayacán, Inc. y Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico

9 de abril de 2018 – La Asociación de Constructores de Puerto Rico (ACPR) y Grupo Guayacán, Inc. (GGI) anunciaron la apertura por segundo año consecutivo de la convocatoria para su programa de becas, el ACPR-Guayacán Fellowship, El programa de Fellowships Fondo de Becas Futuros Constructores de Puerto Rico ha becado a individuos en profesiones relacionadas a la industria de la construcción afiliados a la ACPR por más de 10 años. Desde su creación, el fondo es administrado por la Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (FCPR). En esta ocasión, el Fellowship ofrecerá a una empresa socia de la ACPR la oportunidad de participar con una beca parcial del Guayacán Venture Accelerator (GVA).

El Fellowship surge como resultado de la renovación del Acuerdo de Colaboración firmado por la ACPR y GGI y la colaboración de la FCPR con el objetivo de unir esfuerzos y desarrollar iniciativas que estimulen la educación y el desarrollo empresarial local. El acuerdo busca promover iniciativas de desarrollo y capacitación empresarial entre los miembros de la ACPR.

Rebuilding Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

April 4, 2018 – Winston Figueroa and his family had eaten nothing but hot dogs and bread for a week. The home he shared with his wife, Debruska Hurtado, and their two children, Christall, 24, and Sebastian, 15, was pitch black. But he couldn’t change that now if he tried. A man of faith, Winston lay awake that night last fall and asked God for guidance.

“What am I supposed to do now?”

Before Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, Winston and his family had lived a fairly normal life in Bayamón, not far from San Juan. He was a welder by trade but, due to a spinal cord injury, was forced to switch professions less than a year before. He owned and operated a food truck in the area that, he says, served the biggest hamburger you could buy for $5.

But now things had changed. For more than a day, the Category 4 storm had unleashed winds and floods the island’s residents had never seen. With no electricity or running water, and with no idea how long it would take for the utilities to be restored, Winston knew he and his family would have to make a decision: Leave their friends, their livelihoods, and the only home their children had ever known and move to the mainland United States, or hunker down in Bayamón with hopes that life would return to normal soon.

In mid-October, the decision was made. The Figueroa family arrived in New York City and was placed in a shelter.

Puerto Rico Building
The exact numbers from Maria’s damage weren’t yet known as multifamily executive went to print, but Emilio Colón Zavala, president of the Puerto Rico Builders Association, says the devastating storm damaged 250,000 housing units, including 35,000 that were destroyed.

In the hours and days after Maria battered Puerto Rico, Michael Costa, president and CEO of Gardena, Calif.–based Highridge Costa Housing Partners (HCHP), and his team tried to get in touch with someone at one of the company’s three properties on the island. “[After Hurricane Maria hit], we were obviously worried,” he says. “We literally couldn’t get one ounce of information for about three weeks. The first info we got was from people going online and searching for overhead satellite and drone shots.”

 A full 98% of the homes FEMA assessed after Maria that were built to any code sustained little to no damage.

Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Thanks to those aerial images, Costa could tell that HCHP’s properties had held up well structurally in the storm.

When HCHP built the properties in the mid-2000s, it did so with major hurricanes in mind. “We built what we thought could be the most sturdy project we could,” Costa says. “We literally built two-story, solid-concrete, poured-in-place walls and solid-concrete, poured-in-place roof systems—literally like a giant concrete box.”

The communities, which each offer 120 units of affordable senior housing and are located in rural areas, don’t have windows. As Costa explains, HCHP installed shutters instead because of the potential for high winds and because many residents were already accustomed to shutters. “We built that shell in a manner that, no matter how high those winds got, we were just basically not going to have any damage,” he adds.

When Maria hit, affordable housing developer McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS) was building two apartment communities in Puerto Rico and was about to close on a third. The St. Louis–based firm was selected by HUD and the Puerto Rico Department of Housing to build about 560 mixed-income units on the island.

None of the construction sites were heavily damaged during the storm, MBS president Vince Bennett says, noting that the “buildings were designed to withstand a direct hit by a Category 4 storm” through the use of hurricane-rated doors, windows, roofs, and structures. The first community in Hato Rey, Renaissance Square, is made up of 140 units and was completed in February.

But thousands of structures on the island, like the ones the Figueroas’ neighbors were living in, didn’t fare as well.

On a trip to the island in December, Randy Noel, who is serving as this year’s chairman of the board for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), was particularly struck by what he saw in the community of Toa Baja, which sustained 11 feet of floodwaters during Maria. Every structure built of wood was ruined, he noticed, while the structures built of concrete were standing, though most had suffered roof and window damage.

Puerto Rico has adopted some of the toughest building codes in the U.S., but its housing stock was still vulnerable when Maria swept ashore. According to Zavala, 55% of the island’s housing stock was built “informally,” meaning without the proper permits and not to the island’s building code, which stipulates that structures must be able to withstand wind speeds of at least 145 mph.

“What we’ve seen in terms of damages since the hurricane is that homes that were built according to the existing building code were significantly less damaged than the ones that were built noncompliant to code,” Zavala says, citing a stat from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that says 98% of the homes it assessed after Maria that were built to any code sustained little to no damage.

 Fifty-five percent of Puerto Rico’s housing stock was built ‘informally,’ meaning without the proper permits and not to code.

Source: Puerto Rico Builders Association

Gary Ehrlich, senior program manager of structural codes and standards at the NAHB, says that since 2000, when the first editions of the International Building Code and International Residential Code were published, structures built to more modern codes have fared much better than those “built to some legacy codes or not constructed to a building code at all.” (Click here for expert tips on how to minimize storm damage to your properties.)

In the U.S., roughly 60% of communities have a building code in place, Ehrlich says, and the ones that don’t are typically in rural areas that lack the resources to enforce one.

Tough Choices
In Bayamón, the Figueroas rode out the storm inside their concrete-roof home and made out fine. But many of their neighbors who lived in less-sturdy homes suffered major property loss.

In the days following Maria, using their food-truck supplies, the Figueroas cooked hot dogs on a propane grill and prepared food for neighbors in need. Winston collected rainwater to bathe his father, who lived with the family and suffers from Alzheimer’s, and waited in hours-long supermarket lines only to find when he got to the front that there was no food left. It was a tough decision, Winston told Multifamily Executive in February, but it was the right move for his family to head to New York.

Since the storm, thousands of Puerto Ricans have made similar decisions, and thousands more will do the same in the coming months and years. “It’s really hard when you have everything and then you have nothing,” Winston says.

The Center for Puerto Rican Studies, based at New York’s Hunter College, estimates that Puerto Rico may lose up to 470,335 residents, or 14% of the population, from 2017 to 2019. Jennifer Hinojosa, research associate and data center coordinator for the organization, estimates that between 114,000 and 213,000 Puerto Rico residents will leave the island annually in Maria’s aftermath.

“When it comes to rebuilding Puerto Rico—literally rebuilding Puerto Rico—the depopulation is going to have a major effect at all social [and] economic levels,” Hinojosa says. “If a majority of the school-age children leave Puerto Rico, what’s going to happen five or 10 years from now?”

From 2017 to 2019, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies estimates, 22,710 to 42,771 school-age children will migrate from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland with their families. This population loss, while increasing, is nothing new for Puerto Rico. The island’s economy has struggled for more than a decade, and from 2006 to 2016 it lost more than 525,000 net migrants, Hinojosa’s organization reports.

By 2016, there were 5.5 million stateside Puerto Ricans while the island’s population had fallen to about 3.4 million residents. The overwhelming reason why people are leaving the island, the Center notes, is to search for jobs or to relocate for employment reasons.

Victor Martinez, who moved to New York from Puerto Rico five years ago, launched an organization called Diaspora for Puerto Rico with a couple of friends after Hurricane Maria hit. The aim of the group is to help displaced Puerto Ricans get information they need when they arrive in the mainland U.S. Diaspora for Puerto Rico has worked with more than 200 families, including the Figueroas, mainly in the New York City area.

Martinez knows how difficult it can be to leave home, but fleeing a natural disaster can compound the emotion. “We’re not exactly telling people to move, because we know that it’s difficult for Puerto Rico,” he says, “but at the same time, the people are looking out for their own benefit and that’s important. You can love your country and all that, but then you’re going to look for what is best for your family.”

What was best for the Figueroas was to pack up their belongings and move to New York. While they left out of necessity, they had no idea just how prescient that decision would prove to be.

Christall, who had graduated college in Puerto Rico, was looking to obtain a master’s degree in forensic science in New York when she felt a pain in her neck in November. After an MRI, doctors found a lesion on her brain and another on her spine and diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis. From her hospital bed on Manhattan’s West Side, she told multifamily executive that the move to New York had literally saved her life.

“I can’t treat my condition in Puerto Rico,” she said, sitting up in her bed, her mother and brother at her side, citing New York’s superior medical facilities.

Future Prospects
The post-Maria recovery process in Puerto Rico is still in its early stages. When Winston spoke to the magazine in February, his neighbor in Bayamón had power restored to his home that day. But much of the island was still dark five months after the storm.

On Feb. 9, Congress approved nearly $90 billion in new disaster aid for U.S. states and territories ravaged by hurricanes or wildfires last year. According to The New York Times, that includes $4.8 billion to replenish Puerto Rico’s and the Virgin Islands’ Medicaid funds, $2 billion to restore the shredded power grid, and $9 billion for housing and urban development projects on the islands.

With financial resources heading to Puerto Rico, the problems Hurricane Maria highlighted with respect to the island’s housing stock may be improved upon.

 Each dollar invested in pre-disaster mitigation leads to an average $4 savings from avoided damages.

Source: Enterprise Community Partners

“Often, we find that these big climate events lift off the hood on communities’ internal machinations in terms of crisis points or ongoing issues, but storms will really expose them and aggravate the situation,” says Laurie Schoeman, senior program director, national initiatives, resilience, at Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing nonprofit based in Columbia, Md.

“Often, you find events do reveal community challenges that we have an opportunity through reconstruction to help solve for. Because if there’s money coming into a community, you can leverage that money to reconcile the challenges and differences,” she says.

As someone who has built resilient housing in Puerto Rico, Costa says there’s no reason for a development to be more than three stories high, since land is relatively inexpensive. Also, “going to this 100% concrete building is definitely a way to protect the investment from a long-term standpoint against those high winds they have down there,” he adds. Structures aren’t required to have concrete roofs in Puerto Rico, as long as the material can withstand 145 mph winds and other code requirements.

For MBS, Bennett says he’s open to developing more multifamily housing on Puerto Rico. “Given the demand, we hope to continue to seek opportunities to develop and build rental apartments that are designed to resilient standards. We think there’s a demand for high-quality rental housing in specific markets, like San Juan, that have a need for not only affordable housing but workforce and good-quality mixed-income housing,” he says.

Industry professionals, government agencies, and those who’ve lived through prior natural disasters expect the recovery process to take years in Puerto Rico. But after touring the devastation and meeting with stakeholders, the NAHB’s Noel is optimistic about the island’s future. “I think the Puerto Rican people will recover, because they’re hardworking,” he says. “They just need a little jump-start.”

Like each major climate event that upends thousands of lives, lessons will be learned from this one that will hopefully lessen the impact of future storms. But as Blackstone chief sustainability officer Don Anderson has seen over his time with the New York City–based firm, it’s tough to see the big picture after a catastrophic event.

“Because of the extent of the emergency and tragedy and recovery effort, it’s hard to pull out lessons in-cycle,” he says. “So, sometimes, we just go back to the old ways and say, ‘That was a horrible storm,’ instead of saying, ‘What did we learn and how do we move it forward so that other properties and humans don’t have to suffer so much?’ ”

That’s the task at hand in Puerto Rico.


Tratemos algo distinto para lograr desarrollo económico

16 de marzo de 2018 – Cuando en el año 2015 se trabajaba en el llamado Plan de Ajuste Fiscal y Desarrollo Económico, en la Asociación de Constructores nos dimos a la tarea de estudiar con detenimiento el proceso de obtención de permisos en Puerto Rico. También, buscamos en el informe sobre la Facilidad de Hacer Negocios del Banco Mundial otras jurisdicciones donde se calificó el renglón de evaluación de permisos de construcción mejor que en nuestra isla. Nuestra jurisdicción estaba 158 en el mundo, sólo Haití estaba peor en este renglón del Caribe.

Como resultado de nuestro examen, encontramos que el proceso aquí es demasiado fragmentado en comparación con jurisdicciones mejor calificadas. La manera más efectiva de mejorar la facilidad de hacer negocios, y por ende tener un mejor ecosistema empresarial, es tener un sistema más cohesivo en la toma de decisiones. Además, las estrategias para evaluar iniciativas deben tomar en consideración muchos factores en un conjunto. Por esto, sugerimos una consolidación de agencias gubernamentales de acuerdo a sus roles y a su toma de decisiones. Se sugirió consolidar bajo el Departamento de Desarrollo Económico y Comercio las agencias con roles actuales o potenciales en el desarrollo económico, incluyendo aquellas con gestiones de apoyo. Entre ellas, la Junta de Planificación, OGPe. Instituto de Estadísticas, Agencias de Infraestructuras, Juntas Examinadoras, Departamento de Agricultura. Esta propuesta fue endosada por varias entidades como la Coalición del Sector Privado. También fueron adoptadas en plan publicado por el gobierno al amparo de la Orden Ejecutiva 2015-022.

Debido a esto, entendemos que el nuevo Plan, según ha sido anunciado por el señor Gobernador, es definitivamente un paso en la dirección correcta, para hacernos más eficientes y competitivos, afianzando el rol del gobierno como facilitador de la inversión y la creación de empleos. Además, esta nueva versión del Plan de Reorganización del DDEC, recoge y aborda los principios y propuestas principales contenidos en una propuesta de cambios sustanciales al sistema de permisos que la ACPR presentó en el 2015, como estrategia y mecanismo para hacernos más competitivos como jurisdicción.

La consolidación de servicios y funciones de diversas agencias como la Oficina de Gerencia de Permisos, la Junta de Planificación dentro de la nueva estructura del DDEC, resulta un paso de avanzada, al unificar la función del estado de planificar y autorizar las distintas actividades de construcción dentro de una visión y misión central de desarrollo económico bajo el liderato del DDEC. Estas acciones deben ayudar a mejorar la facilidad de hacer negocios en Puerto Rico sin perjudicar la necesaria protección de los recursos naturales. Una evaluación holística de propiedades precisamente permitirá finalmente balancear estas dos necesidades dada nuestra limitada extensión territorial.

Esta reorganización, plantea grandes oportunidades de ahorro a través de la consolidación de servicios y funciones, pero preservando el empleo de los servidores públicos que son parte de las entidades consolidadas y generando la unificación de las agencias de desarrollo económico dentro de la nueva estructura del DDEC. Reconocemos los grandes méritos de este nuevo Plan. A la vez, recomendamos que se dé continuidad al esfuerzo ya comenzado del DMO y se preserve una entidad a cargo del desarrollo turístico, que tenga bases robustas para encaminar el desarrollar un sector tan vital para nuestro desarrollo económico como el sector turístico.

Continuar haciendo las cosas de la misma manera y pretender obtener resultados distintos es imposible. Volvamos a lo básico, aprendamos de los éxitos de otras jurisdicciones para finalmente volver al camino de la prosperidad.

Por Emilio Colón Zavala, presidente de la ACPR
Publicado en Hábitat, El Vocero


Proponen un programa de vales para garantizar viviendas seguras

13 de marzo de 2018 – Para amplificar el beneficio de los fondos del Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) asignados para la recuperación de vivienda y desarrollo económico, la Asociación de Constructores de Puerto Rico (ACPR) recomendó un programa de vales para que familias “que perdieron su vivienda puedan adquirir una segura de manera formal”. Una de las preocupaciones del gremio es que, ante la urgencia de un techo, sigan replicándose los errores de construcción del pasado. Por ello, en las vistas públicas para debatir el uso de $1,500 millones de estos fondos bajo la supervisión del Departamento de la Vivienda, la ACPR presentó una serie de programas como este de vales para que, según el análisis de su equipo técnico, el dinero tenga el efecto de reducir el riesgo de la población que vive en construcciones informales y áreas vulnerables; que no sea un parcho, sino que redunde en verdadero desarrollo económico, explicó Emilio Colón Zavala, presidente de la ACPR, en entrevista con El Nuevo Día.

“Es una inquietud real, que mientras más se tarden las ayudas en llegar, más probabilidad habrá de que la gente construya informalmente en el sitio donde estaba”, señaló. “Sencillamente, la gente tiene que resolver su problema”. Según  el ingeniero, el programa de vales aplicaría también a residentes en lugares de alto riesgo de daños por desastres naturales, aunque no necesariamente hayan perdido su casa. Con esto se aprovecharía la coyuntura de la recuperación para evitar que, en un evento similar en el futuro, esas familias tengan que volver a refugiarse, expuso Colón Zavala. Pero los vales propuestos por la ACPR no deben usarse para viviendas construidas fuera del marco de la ley o que sean de construcción tan añeja que no cumplan con los códigos que, según demostró el huracán María, son eficaces para salvaguardar vida y propiedad, advirtió. Colón Zavala basó esta premisa en el Estudio de Vivienda que la ACPR comisionó a la firma Estudios Técnicos. Este informe, emitido en febrero de este año, arrojó que el 98% de las viviendas de construcción formal que FEMA inspeccionó tras los huracanes, sufrió poco o ningún daño.

Como consecuencia, la ACPR recomendó que las unidades que se cualifiquen sean de nueva construcción o existente (incluido el inventario de reposeídas); cumplan con el código de construcción; no estén localizadas en lugares de alto riesgo de daños o en áreas inundables; y cumplan con los requisitos de CDBG-DR en el Registro Federal, lo cual incluye un componente de construcción verde. Colón Zavala indicó que la ACPR propuso en vista pública que el programa arranque con vales de hasta $80,000 para 5,000 familias, con miras a que se amplíe cuando se obtengan más fondos federales debido a que esta suma, en raras ocasiones, será suficiente para cubrir el costo total de la vivienda.

Los subsidios CDBG-DR van dirigidos a la recuperación de desastres, incluyendo la renovación y reconstrucción de vivienda, asistencia para negocios, revitalización económica y reparación de infraestructura. En Puerto Rico, estos fondos son administrados por el Departamento de Vivienda, que los distribuye según las áreas que sufrieron el mayor impacto identificadas por el Departamento de Vivienda federal (HUD, en inglés).


A legislar cambios en la Ley de Condominios

7 de marzo de 2018 – Diversos sectores discuten la necesidad de repoblar los centros urbanos, revitalizar los cascos urbanos y promover la construcción vertical, como formas de reordenar los espacios y mejorar los entornos y las comunidades.

No obstante, son muchos los escenarios donde la política pública y las acciones del Estado no necesariamente promueven la consecución ordenada de tales aspiraciones.

La actual Ley de Condominios de Puerto Rico ejemplifica la obsolescencia de nuestro estado de derecho, como fuente de promoción de desarrollo económico.

La ley vigente, que data del 1958, fue objeto de enmiendas sustanciales en el 2003, pero desde ese entonces no ha sido sometida al análisis crítico de quienes viven y aplican el estatuto en su devenir empresarial, en su quehacer residencial y en su marco profesional.

Lejos del análisis académico, distante de la realidad que viven las familias y las personas que experimentan problemas diarios que deben resolver con las herramientas limitadas y onerosas que ofrece la ley actual, hay un enorme espacio de cambio que resulta más que necesario, pues ya es urgente e ineludible.

La necesidad de conformar la Ley de Condominios a los parámetros de la reglamentación federal sobre reservas y márgenes de morosidad, la aspiración de eliminar el anticuado requisito de la unanimidad en los procesos decisionales, y la lógica de reformular el sistema de activación de pago de cuotas y traspaso de administración son solo instancias que llaman al cambio inmediato.

Ante ello, múltiples sectores empresariales, profesionales y ciudadanos han hecho causa común para peticionar un cambio completo en dicha ley, adoptando un estatuto que se ajuste a los retos y aspiraciones de la era moderna que Puerto Rico desea emprender de la mano del proceso de reconstrucción socioeconómica a la que aspiramos después del impacto del huracán María.

Nuestra Asamblea Legislativa y el gobernador Ricardo Rosselló Nevares tienen ante sí una gran oportunidad de tomar pasos afirmativos para forjar una nueva Ley de Condominios que sea responsiva a los tiempos que encaramos y las responsabilidades que debemos asumir para echar al país hacia adelante. No perdamos esa gran oportunidad.