Vieques Residents call for participation and regulations to address housing crisis

Camille Padilla Dalmau
Published in
November 6, 2023
Right to Belong
Political participation

On July 6th, 2023, Marilyn López linked arms with a group of Viequenses to protest the auction bidding system used by the Municipality of Vieques to sell public lots.

“It’s not the auction, it was the method they were using that prevented locals from competing,” explained the Vieques teacher and member of Colmena Cimarrona, an organization that promotes food sovereignty through education and agroecology.

To participate in the auction organized by the Municipality of Vieques, the highest bidder had to be able to pay 10% of the cost of the property on the same day they made the bid. The Municipality chose this method without requesting input from the community to align the auction with the social and economic reality of the Viequenses. The protest was held in response to these conditions, which the demonstrators described as unequal.

In the end, the civil disobedience was successful, and the protesters prevented the sale.

"We have been protecting these spaces for many years, we took out a Navy [that] for many years was harming this, and now that we have all this [land] available, why not work for the benefit of the community?" said López.


Imagen obtenida en Instagram por @colmenacimarrona y @alianzamujeresviequenses

Instead of creating spaces for citizen participation after the protest, the Municipality of Vieques and the municipal police have responded with a series of legal citations against Katherine Martinez Medina—who now faces two criminal charges for the demonstration.

On November 8th, La Colmena Cimarrona, the Vieques Women’s Alliance and the Vieques Historical Archive called for a demonstration at the Fajardo Courthouse at 8:30 a.m., in support of the demonstrator , who is also a college student majoring in social work. According to a report by Todas, Martinez Medina’s lawyers hope to reach a community resolution outside the courtroom.

At 9 Millones, we don’t want to lose sight of the reasons why Viequenses are mobilizing.  

Why are Viequenses protesting?

First of all, housing in Vieques is very expensive. 9 Millones conducted an analysis of 79 homes available for sale on Zillow, a real estate platform. We found that, of the 79 properties for sale, only 6 cost less than $150k. The median cost was $395k , while the exact average is $817,428.48—however, the latter figure could be inflated, as 17 of the properties cost more than $1 million. The cheapest house costs $79,900, and is in need of renovation, while the most expensive property costs $7 million. This data was extracted on September 5th, 2023.

In addition, houses and rent prices in Vieques are unaffordable for most of the population. The median annual salary for a family in Vieques is $14,942, according to Census data. Rents are equally challenging: Vieques has a relatively high rental cost, considering its average wages, according to the study “Cost of Living and Living Wages by Municipality”.

In response, Vieques organizations La Colmena Cimarrona, Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses, Vidas Viequenses Valen and Archivo Histórico de Vieques published a manifesto denouncing the housing crisis, unemployment, and inaccessible agricultural land. The manifesto was created through an inclusive participation process, using surveys and meetings with residents.

As stated in the manifesto, their demands are:

Immediate regulation of public and private property sales and rent control.

The transfer of public lands to a community land trust.

Community participation in planning and decisions on the use of public lands.

Prioritizing the need for dignified housing and safe homes to avoid gentrification and land grabbing on public and private lands.

“There has to be a law that controls the price of housing, and above all the price gouging for the people who live here,” said Hilda Bonilla, a member of the Vieques Women’s Alliance and a Vieques resident. Bonilla, who is part of the Dignified Housing Committee that wrote the manifesto, affirmed that there is a need for a public policy against displacement. The committee members are seeking out a dialogue with the mayor to integrate the community in the planning process.

9 Millones made several approaches to receive comment from Vieques Mayor José “Junito” Corcino, but at the time of publication, he did not respond to our requests. On his end, Corcino has promised to build 100 new housing units in the municipality, but a plan has yet to be presented to the community, and there are concerns that they will build them without citizen participation. It would not be the first time this has happened—community leader Bonilla pointed to the case of Verde Vieques, a community that was built without the necessary water and electricity infrastructure to be habitable.

Bonilla explained in an interview with 9 Millones that the community wants to help the municipality in planning, but so far they have not seen any concrete plans. “Until we see public policy from the Municipal Assembly, the mayor or the legislature, I understand that there is nothing,” emphasized Bonilla.

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