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Data Parity for Puerto Rico

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) has called on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for data parity for Puerto Rico. Specifically, she and eleven other Members of Congress are asking that Puerto Rico be included in the American Housing Survey (AHS). Velazquez points out that decisions are made for Puerto Rico on the basis of incomplete and outdated information. “This is a direct result,” her press release says, “of Puerto Rico’s exclusion from many of the nation’s data collection instruments, including the AHS.”

What is the AHS?

Every other year, the Dept. Housing and Urban Development sponsors a Census Bureau survey of the housing options available throughout the United States. This data allows us to use an online tool to discover that Orlando has more than 800,000 hymns with an average of a bit more than two bedrooms apiece. We can see how large they are, when they were built, whether they are wheelchair accessible, and that hardly any of them have basements — or any comparable set of data we might need.

There is no data for Puerto Rico.

Why is Puerto Rico not included?

Puerto Rico is often excluded from data collection in the United States. It is not clear why the Island was excluded from the AHS in particular, but the letter from Members of Congress asks for a reason.

The report of the Congressional Task Force on Economic Development in Puerto Rico wrote in their 2016 report about the lack of data on Puerto Rico and how that hampered the economy of the Island. In particular, they wrote that “Puerto Rico is excluded from Census Bureau statistical programs that provide information on housing, such as the American Housing Survey (AHS), the Construction Progress Reporting Survey (CPRS), the Housing Vacancy Survey (HVS), the Manufactured Housing Survey (MHS; conducted jointly with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), and the Value of Construction Put in Place Survey (VIP). The Task Force recommends that the Census Bureau, in coordination with the government of Puerto Rico, examine the feasibility of including Puerto Rico in some or all of these products, or identify alternative means of collecting and publishing reliable data on the housing market in Puerto Rico.” The situation has not changed since that time.

“Unfortunately, the available data on the variety of factors that have triggered the housing crisis in Puerto Rico remains limited and fragmented,” the Velazquez letter reports. “Further, it is extremely difficult to conduct a comprehensive historical analysis or compare the housing situation in Puerto Rico with other States without appropriate benchmarks. In particular, the absence of exhaustive, uniform, and consistent data sets on the housing inventory in Puerto Rico creates a significant obstacle for local and federal policymakers managing the crisis.”

Does it matter?

It is not possible to extrapolate usefully from information about Orlando or any other area in the states to information about Puerto Rico. For housing, the situation on the Island is quite different from that in any state. Some of the factors that Velazquez and the others mentioned:

  • About half of the homes in Puerto Rico were built in “informal” circumstances, without architects, engineers, or adherence to local building codes.
  • At least 200,000 homes are in flood-prone areas, affected by recent hurricanes.
  • The inadequate supply of livable homes has led to grave increases in the cost of housing, with single-family homes costing 22% more and rental unit prices increasing by 15% on average since 2018.
  • More than 30,000 people are now on the public housing waiting list in Puerto Rico.
  • The influx of wealthy property buyers drawn by Puerto Rico’s tax loopholes has further driven up property values and reduced the number of available, affordable homes. Many potential homes are now short-term rentals, since the tax deals encourage the purchase of real estate but require buyers to live in Puerto Rico for only half the year.

Since these factors distinguish Puerto Rico from communities in the states, data from places other than Puerto Rico cannot provide a useful picture of the housing situation on the Island. “We strongly believe that the reliable, timely, and accessible data sets from the AHS would advance the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s hardest-hit neighborhoods and prioritize federal efforts where necessary,” the letter concludes.

The request

Finally, the letter asks HUD for these things:

  1. Please explain why, to date, HUD has never included Puerto Rico in the AHS.
  2. Does HUD currently plan to include Puerto Rico in the next AHS, or any future rounds of AHS? If not, please explain why HUD is not currently planning to include Puerto Rico in any future AHS rounds.
  3. A determination of whether the newly added variables to the AHS, such as housing insecurity, power outages, and number of residents relocations due to the occurrence of disasters, could currently be evaluated for Puerto Rico.
  4. An estimated assessment of the direct cost that would be incurred by HUD by conducting the AHS in Puerto Rico.
  5. The number of USCB personnel required to conduct the Survey in Puerto Rico.
  6. A comprehensive evaluation of the methodological and logistical challenges to conduct AHS in Puerto Rico.

Rep. Velazquez posted this notice on X (formerly Twitter):

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