Governor of Puerto Rico promises housing assistance for Philadelphia’s Maria evacuees

During a visit to Philadelphia on Friday, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said he’s committed to declaring Pennsylvania a host state, which will provide local governments with federal funding for housing Puerto Rican evacuees.

Rosselló also promised to ask FEMA for an extension of a Temporary Shelter Assistance (TSA) program ending on March 20th.

“Before the day is over, I will communicate with the governor [Tom Wolf] and with the mayor [Jim Kenney] so that we can make sure that this process goes forward and that we can take care of the U.S. citizens that live in Puerto Rico that are staying now in Pennsylvania,” the governor said.

About 900 families arrived in Philadelphia after Hurricane Maria hit the island last September 20. Many of them are staying temporarily with family and friends, and about 50 families are staying at hotels provided by FEMA’s TSA program.

Rosselló said he wrote FEMA several weeks ago asking for a Direct Lease program for Pennsylvania, which grants survivors temporary housing units, in some cases with utilities included. For a state to qualify for the federal aid, FEMA must designate it as a “host state.”  Rosselló identified Florida, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts as host states. A FEMA spokesperson said on Friday that Florida is the only host state declared to date.

The FEMA spokesperson said that the agency had not “yet received information, a formal request or notification of a host state agreement between Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania.”

Rosselló told local Puerto Rican evacuees on Friday that he will work with partners on the local, state and federal level to move the process forward. “I [alone] can’t declare it,” he said.

Mayor Kenney met with Rosselló at a Center City restaurant on Friday afternoon. The two elected officials discussed how to best support the hundreds of Puerto Rican families who arrived in Philadelphia in Maria’s wake.

“The Mayor said the discussion was productive, and he’s hopeful that going forward all stakeholders will be able to work out arrangements that are best for the families involved, and for the city,” spokesperson Mike Dunn wrote in an email.

Charito Morales, from community organization Voces del Barrio, made Gov. Rosselló sign a placard to seal his commitment.

“He promised us and I think that’s a promise that cannot be broken,” Morales said. “We have the proof in front of everybody that he promised to speak on behalf of all Puerto Ricans, especially the evacuees from the island here in Philadelphia and make sure [we get] all the extensions for the services that we asking, the TSA, housing and a fair living for these individuals.”

Rosselló came to Philadelphia to encourage local Latino leaders to organize and make Puerto Ricans living in the city to get out to vote. More than a hundred representatives of the Latino clergy, community organizations and elected officials shared breakfast and a prayer for Puerto Rico with him at Esperanza’s headquarters in North Philadelphia.

Carmen Febo San Miguel, executive director of the Fairhill arts organization Taller Puertorriqueño, said Gov. Rosselló is asking the Puerto Rican diaspora for political leverage to be able to get more federal funds for the recovery efforts.

“The governor has been making the rounds in Florida, in New York, and other places where there’s a high concentration of Puerto Ricans,”  Febo San Miguel said. “The people in Puerto Rico don’t have a vote and we do, and that presents a dynamic that as Puerto Ricans we need to figure out ways that we can connect and work forward to positive things.”

Later on Friday, the Latino community met to work on the long-term recovery plan for Puerto Rican evacuees in the city. According to a reportfrom the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, Pennsylvania will see the second largest migration of Puerto Ricans (behind Florida) after Hurricane Maria, estimating between 6,500 and 27,000 people moving here annually.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal