Transformation And Innovation After Devastation: A Plan For Economic And Disaster Recovery For Puerto Rico

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Following hurricanes Irma and María, Puerto Rico’s Housing Department awarded its largest federally funded, recovery-related contract to Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR) without a proposal that demonstrated the nonprofit organization’s interest or expertise in managing a community planning program.

The local government agency did not disclose the criteria used for the selection of FPR, nor did it take into account citizen participation on this matter. There was no competitive bidding process to administer the $37.5 million in federal funds awarded to FPR under the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) to develop the Whole Community Resiliency Planning Program, confirmed Annie Mayol, president and CEO of Foundation for Puerto Rico.

More than $6 million would cover operational expenses, personnel hiring, consulting, the creation of a webpage and technological tools for managing information and statistics, the contract shows. Housing recently submitted and amendment to the FPR contract to increase its amount to $55 million. FPR’s net assets for 2017 amounted to roughly $8.8 million, according to the organization’s annual report filed with the local State Department.

The Planning Program seeks to create resiliency plans for communities to better prepare these in case of future natural disasters. As done by 30 other nongovernmental organizations, Foundation for Puerto Rico submitted a written testimony when the local Housing Department began to work on the action plan for this program. A few months later, Housing reached out to FPR to bring it on board the program, Mayol said during an interview with the Center for Investigative Journalism.

Foundation for Puerto Rico was founded in 2011 by Jon Borschow, a political donor of Puerto Rico’s main parties, the New Progressive Party and the Popular Democratic Party. In 2017, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló tapped Borschow to chair Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s newly created destination marketing organization (DMO). The latter stands to receive $25 million in CDBG-DR funds.

According to its website, FPR promotes economic and social development opportunities in Puerto Rico. It focuses on the “visitors’ economy” and transforming the island into a global destination. The organization, however, does not specialize in community planning issues.

“When we were approached [by Housing], we made sure it was a collaborative process, where there would be other organizations with us in the program,” Mayol said. She stressed that Foundation for Puerto Rico has experience in finance, but acknowledged that the organization will need to retain outside technical and specialized personnel—such as planners—to help in the project.

For his part, Housing Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat said that the government chose FPR because it “always proposed solutions, more than other foundations that were not looking at this globally” during the public hearing process to come up with an action plan for the program. “We also saw [FPR’s] trajectory, that it quickly executed programs [after María],” he added without providing further details.