Major improvements for Puerta de Tierra public housing residents 

Volume: 35 | No: 38
Page : B38-B39
Issued : 09/27/2007

Residencial Puerta de Tierra

Through the efforts of the Puerto Rico Housing Department and the Public Housing Administration, public housing in the San Juan Puerta de Tierra waterfront district will have a whole new look. “What we’re trying to do here is something different from the typical modernization projects we usually do in public housing,” said Jorge Rivera, secretary of the Puerto Rico Housing Department. “This is what we call a demonstration urban project and it will create a lot of new opportunities not only for the residents but for the entire waterfront district as a whole.”

He explained that while the current public housing facility in Puerta de Tierra consists of one huge lot that stands as a barrier between the waterfront parcels and the rest of the community, the new development plan has the area subdivided into four parcels that will provide three new access areas from the north to the south to connect the property to other sections of the area and make it a more walkable community. “Not only are we taking away the big walls that currently separate this community from the others but we will be providing walkable lots that allow interaction among various income levels,” said Carlos Laboy, director of the Public Housing Administration. “Imagine coming from Hacienda and you can walk all the way from Puerta de Tierra to Club Náutico.” He added that the new concept, which is currently in the design phase, has been also used for public housing in other cities throughout the U.S., such as San Francisco and Oakland. “This is what we call the new phase of public housing,” he added.

And while the buildings in the current housing project are positioned diagonally to the sidewalks, the new structures will be parallel to resemble typical city streets. In addition, the new complex will contain an exclusive building to house the elderly, with doctors and medical professionals located nearby.

In addition to the new structures, one of the most exciting features of the redesigned project involves the wide range of opportunities it will create for residents. “In addition to the residential units, this new concept will also include as many as 65 commercial spaces that will provide a number of benefits for the residents,” said Rivera. He explained the concept is twofold. First, by including a number of much-needed businesses in the complex, such as a 24/7 pharmacy, convenience stores, services and eateries, the residents would be able to get what they need without leaving the area. “Right now, there is no pharmacy between Miramar and Old San Juan,” said Rivera. “This new project will provide the necessary services to that community.” He also said these businesses could provide employment opportunities to the residents as well.

And while some of the commercial spaces will be used to house established mainstream businesses, others will serve to open doors for residents to start their own businesses and sell their services and wares to residents and visitors alike. “We have a program within Public Housing that provides residents with the necessary tools to establish their own businesses,” said Laboy. “We provide them with the training and many have become successful entrepreneurs as a result.” He explained that through the Public Housing Administration an economic development program was created whereby programs and initiatives are developed to harness the skills of public housing residents throughout the island and help them use these skills to establish their own microcompanies. By providing assistance in areas, such as the preparation of business plans, selling strategies, pricing, insurance, permits, etc., residents have the opportunity to develop and grow in a number of areas. “Not only does the program facilitate the economic independence of the residents, it also helps to improve the quality of life for them and their families,” said Laboy.

In the case of the Puerta de Tierra project, many of the commercial spaces will be used to house these microcompanies. “Our goal is to give these residents the opportunity to rent these store-front spaces,” said Laboy. “Not only will it give residents a place to sell their goods but it would create a street-mall atmosphere that will make it a more active tourist area as well.” There are currently more than 50 Pridco-(Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co.) certified resident arts and crafts vendors, who have resident-owned businesses with some even participating in various trade fairs, such as the one held by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to sell handmade clothing, pottery, jewelry and other sought-after items.

In addition to the Puerta de Tierra megaproject, similar projects are being planned for other parts of the island, including Mayagüez, where the new concept will be applied to a project in front of the park where the 2010 Caribbean games will be held. Similar to the San Juan waterfront design, this will also contain commercial spaces and a tower for the elderly.

Among other projects planned for the Mayagüez region, Rivera and Laboy also talked about the new Boys and Girls Clubs’ recreational facility, which will be the largest in the nation and will feature a swimming pool and a host of recreational amenities. “The Boys and Girls Clubs of America was very impressed by our commitment to this project,” said Laboy. “They have become one of our best partners and they will be managing the facility once it is built.” He also said proven experience shows that when these kinds of facilities are provided to public housing residents and the community in general, there is less of a need to increase police forces in those districts.