Mi Casa Es Mi Casa

Protecting Property Rights in Puerto Rico

Following our resounding victory for educational choice in Puerto Rico this summer, IJ continues working to bring greater freedom to the island with the launch of our largest Spanish language activism campaign yet.

Puerto Ricans are still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, but many fear losing their homes and livelihoods to a different kind of threat. That is because Puerto Rico’s outdated eminent domain law is one of the worst in the United States.

In Puerto Rico, eminent domain can be used to acquire private property to be developed into virtually anything municipalities want—from shopping malls to casinos to luxury housing. To make matters worse, there is little opportunity to challenge these takings in court, and public hearings are not required, as is commonplace stateside.

Development has stalled since the hurricanes, but Puerto Rico’s municipal governments see the influx of billions in federal recovery funds as a green light to condemn communities for previously unviable projects.

This spring, a team of IJers traveled to Puerto Rico to join forces with communities, organizations, and individual activists from across the island to fight back against this injustice.

Puerto Ricans are still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, but many fear losing their homes and livelihoods to a different kind of threat.

In a community named Vietnam, we met with tireless activists who have seen hundreds of their neighbors’ homes bulldozed in the former mayor’s quest to acquire land to hand over to his developer cronies. We met a woman who nurses her bedridden mother and sister in the last home standing in a once vibrant community that was levelled to make way for a luxury condo development that never fully materialized. Across the island we saw colorful murals depicting past and ongoing struggles against eminent domain.

Following our first trip, we developed a three-pronged approach: form an island-wide coalition, release reports outlining the problems with the current law and solutions for reform, and demand legislative action to protect the property rights of homeowners.

In August, IJ helped form and launch the Comité para la Reforma de la Ley de Expropiaciones Forzosas (Committee for Eminent Domain Reform). We collaborated with local activists to create a Puerto Rico-specific Spanish-language version of our popular Eminent Domain Survival Guide.

The following week, IJ released a report card detailing the existing law’s serious shortcomings and grading it an “F” when it comes to protecting property rights. The report included recommendations for reform and generated significant coverage from the island’s largest news outlets. A week of meetings with legislators and a press conference announcing IJ’s collaboration with the new coalition further established our commitment and helped attract over 150 attendees to activism trainings we held on different parts of the island. Just days later, a senator introduced a bill to specifically address our concerns. Now, we’re working with our coalition to promote this legislation.

So many on the island have lost so much in the past year. They should not now have to face the additional threat of having their home or small business taken from them by their own government, simply for the benefit of a private developer. IJ will stand with Puerto Rico property owners to protect their rights and to bring common- sense reforms to the Commonwealth.

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