Without Basic Utilities, Puerto Rican Exodus Expected

Hurricane Maria left the flooded island of 3.4 million American citizens without power, communications, and running water, which may take months before they are restored. An exodus to Florida, which had begun before Maria hit, will likely accelerate.

2 minute read

September 27, 2017, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


Puerto Rico

Hadrian / Shutterstock

The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on September 20, has been described as "apocalyptic," and despite claims by the Trump Administration that "[t]he federal response has been anything but slow," the island's residents, who are American citizens as the island is an unincorporated U.S. territory, are hurting badly.

All of the electricity on the island now comes from generators. The problem lies not with the power plants, but from the fact that "roughly 80 percent of transmission lines which take power from the plants to distribution centers, are down," reports Rachel Becker for The Verge.

The mayor of San Juan has said she expected it could take four to six months for the lights to turn back on — but the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority's chief executive told the New York Times he expected three to four months, at most.

"Even before it was hit by Irma [on Sept. 20] and now Maria, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said it needed more than $4 billion to overhaul its outdated power plants and reduce its heavy reliance on imported oil," reported Steven Mufson for The Washington Post. "The company filed, in effect, for bankruptcy July 2."

Similarly, the island had already suffering from a host of economic and financial problems well before the two hurricanes hit, reports  for The Washington Post, which resulted in an exodus of "about 80,000 Puerto Rico residents" moving to the mainland United States last year. "Most of them relocated to Florida."

[T]he arrival of thousands of island transplants has transformed cities such as Orlando and Kissimmee and is changing local and national politics. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens who can participate in presidential primaries but cannot vote for president while living on the island.

Another area likely to see Puerto Rican migration in the "thousands" will be New York City, said Mayor Bill de Blasio, report Yoav Gonen and Danika Fears for The New York Post.

Without immediate help from the US government to rebuild the island, “there will be a mass exodus to the United States,’’ said Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

"Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), whose Brooklyn-area district has a significant Puerto Rican constituency...warned that if legislation addressing the economic problems isn’t coupled with federal hurricane relief, 'we’re going to have an unprecedented number of people who will continue to leave the island,'" adds O'Keefe.

    Friday, September 22, 2017 in The Washington Post

    Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

    LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

    Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

    May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

    Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

    Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

    City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

    May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

    Ornate, tan stone capitol building with a gold dome roof and low-rise city buildings in the background.

    States Are Banning Guaranteed Income Programs

    Four states now have laws in place that prevent cities and counties from creating or continuing guaranteed income programs, and several more have tried or are trying.

    May 23, 2024 - Bloomberg CityLab

    View of downtown Dallas, Texas skyline with skyscrapers against twilight sky.

    Dallas Hopes to Boost Economy With TV and Film Tax Breaks

    The Dallas city council voted unanimously to request a designation from the state that would allow the city to offer sales and use tax exemptions for redevelopment of TV and film production facilities.

    May 27 - The Dallas Morning News

    Close-up of mobile phone with Airbnb and VRBO app icons.

    Proposed Bill Would Outlaw Nearly Half of Cleveland's Airbnbs

    The proposed new ordinance aims to help combat the Cleveland's housing crunch and eliminate nuisance complaints related to short-term rental properties.

    May 27 - Cleveland Scene

    White and peach Florida state capitol building with palm trees in front in Tallahassee, Florida.

    Florida Rolls Back Renewable Energy Goals

    A new state law eliminates language calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and makes it easier to build natural gas pipelines.

    May 27 - News Service of Florida

    News from HUD User

    HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

    Call for Speakers

    Mpact Transit + Community

    New Updates on PD&R Edge

    HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

    Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

    This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

    Planning for Universal Design

    Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.