Their work in Puerto Rico gone, their home still without power, their family now living in a motel in Orlando, and their future still uncertain, Emanuel Ortiz and Crystal Rodriguez now hear their bank threatening to foreclose on their home in Bayamón because they haven’t been able to make a house payment since Hurricane Maria wiped them out.
The situation may be widespread, according to a coalition of mostly progressive-politics groups led by VAMOS4PR that held a set of press conferences this week, including one in Orlando. They were calling attention to the findings of a report from Hedge Clippers that found foreclosures were skyrocketing on the island even before Hurricane Maria’s devastation in September, and that many of the families fleeing to stateside like Ortiz, Rodriguez and their two young children, may wind up with no homes to go back to.
More than 250,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island for Florida since early October. It’s unknown how many came temporarily, or hoped to come only temporarily. Ortiz and Rodriguez hope to return as soon as they can. But will they lose their home before they can return?
“She’s scared that might happen,” said Carolina Gonzalez of VAMOS4PR, translating questions and answers between English and Spanish for Rodriguez and Florida Politics. “She doesn’t want to lose it, but she’s just not sure how she’s going to be able to manage.”
Their bank, Banco Popular, informed them that they must bring their mortgage payments up to date by January or the bank intends to foreclose, Rodriguez said. Banco Popular did not immediately respond to a Florida Politics inquiry about the situation.
Back in Puerto Rico, Ortiz had his own business airbrushing cars, but no one post-Maria was seeking to get their cars customized, and power was difficult to arrange to run his equipment anyway. Rodriguez worked as a secretary in a private education resource center, but the storm damaged and shut down that business and she got laid off. They came to Orlando to stay temporarily with a dear friend, but after a month they got FEMA vouchers to move into a motel. Ortiz finally found work this past week in Orlando, in a furniture rental store. That was in September, but they’re still awaiting their first check.
VAMOS4PR and the other groups in the network made demands this week that banks doing business in Puerto Rico find ways to be merciful. In particular the report from Hedge Clippers, a group that challenges hedge funds, focused on what it called the most aggressive foreclosure activity in Puerto Rico, by TPG Capital and its affiliate Rushmore. In the case of TPG the coalition accused it the company of being very aggressive in trying to take properties, stating that TPG has 384 active foreclosure cases in Puerto Rico. In one case, the coalition said, a judge denied an eviction process because the judge said he did not know if the family would be able to find alternate shelter in their storm-ravaged community.
On Wednesday the coalition held events in ten cities worldwide: Orlando, Boston, New York, Bridgeport, Elizabeth, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and London, calling attention to the foreclosures challenge in Puerto Rico and the activities of TPG in particular.
TPG and Rushmore indicated they have put a moratorium of at least six months on new foreclosures on the island from the hurricane through March, and also are seeking to stop processing of the existing foreclosures, except for homes that had been known to be vacant prior to the storm.
“Preying on families that still have no electricity, food, or basic services is inhumane,” Yulissa Arce from Hedge Clippers and Organize Florida said. “We’re here to tell Rushmore, TPG and companies like them that we will not let them get away with these practices, today or going forward, and that they must stop their foreclosures in Puerto Rico and in places where they are taking advantage of people who are already struggling.”