Bernier bets on public housing communities as social transformation centers
SAN JUAN – Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President and gubernatorial candidate David Bernier presented Sunday a plan to transform Puerto Rico’s 332 public housing communities into centers of “social transformation” during an improvised visit to Carolina’s Sábana Abajo complex.
Bernier toured the affordable-housing project accompanied by the party’s resident commissioner candidate, Héctor Ferrer; Carolina Mayor José Aponte Dalmau and his wife, presenter Alexandra Fuentes; and other PDP officials.
“In order to transform the country, we must work on the root of the problem. The residents of our public housing projects are hungry for progress, but they need government help, not to be paternalistic but to create programs that can truly help them move forward, programs that take into consideration their socioeconomic barriers and help them support their families, day to day, with their [hard work] and that they have pride in their work,” Bernier said.
Among its principal initiatives, Bernier’s plan includes creating 10,000 new jobs for low-income residents through five economic stimulus measures. In addition, he intends to increase the number of small business to 600 while emphasizing residents’ self-management, and exempting businesses with an annual income of $500,000 or less from paying the sales & use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym).
He also proposed the creation of 350 small businesses using the cooperative model for residents to work in their communities, as well as creating a multidisciplinary service program that would include the establishment of new day-care centers, for children up to ninth grade, with measured educational programs, computer and conversational English courses, courses for adults to complete their 12th-grade education, as well as sports and fine arts programs.
“We will create those jobs adding educational programs to existing resources. The resources available today, when you leave them open and don’t restrict them or establish public policy clearly, their effect disperses. But when you clearly establish that the resources must prioritize employment opportunities for the people who live here above all else, they get optimized. That seems like an easy change, but it is very important and it will be very strict. The first employment option of all available resources, not only in the social wellbeing component, is job training and employment for people in low-income housing,” Bernier explained.
Another fundamental point in his plan for affordable housing is changing the public-housing rent system, which he called a “profound and absurd injustice” for being proportional to renters’ revenue and based on geographic location.
“Contrary to the rest of the country, these public housing residents work, generate income and pay their monthly rent in proportion to their income. That is, if that resident gets a salary increase or their spouse gets a job, their rent automatically increases. That is penalizing a family for making progress,” the party president said.
“Those who want to move forward should not be punished as happens with the PAN [Spanish acronym for Nutritional Assistance Program], for which we are proposing an 18- to 36-month extension to the transition period so those who work aren’t penalized and that it extend to the benefit of public housing, and that will allow residents to move forward without being penalized. That it be transitional and not penalize those who want to move forward and who want to step into the workforce,” he stressed.
Bernier’s plan also contemplates legislation that every sports, artistic, business-oriented, tourism or other such entity that receives public funds for promotional or operational expenses has to offer a number of voluntary and community work hours at public housing communities.
“Under this initiative, basketball, baseball teams, and federations that develop sports, the arts or social activity that are subsidized by the government will have to provide workshops, carry out their practice, seminars, conferences or tutoring to kids and young adults in low-income housing,” he said
“Contrary to the past, when public housing was invaded by the National Guard and the police, under my administration we will bring jobs, day-care centers, electronic libraries, and sports and fine arts programs that improve residents’ quality of life,” he added.
Bernier explained that the plan would be financed by reassigning $10 million from the Administrators Services’ federal funds. In addition, $10.6 million already approved for the Sports and Recreation Department’s “Vivienda en Acción” (Housing in Action) program; the “strategic” allocation of $4.5 million from the Family Department’s “Networks” program; $15 million from the the nonprofit sector entities’ service programs, whose funds are already assigned in the current budget. That would represent an annual investment of $40 million, or $160 million during the next four years.