Rural communities often feel at a disadvantage when competing with large urban entities for funding and direct access to necessary programs. To combat this, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development created the Rural Partners Network (RPN), an all-of-government program that helps rural communities find resources and funding to create jobs, build infrastructure, and support long-term economic stability on their own terms.
In Puerto Rico, the local Rural Development office led by Director Monica Rodríguez hosted its first Partners Network Forum on August 29, 2023, in Caguas. There are three rural networks in the partnership: Southwest, Central Mountain, and East Networks, comprising 15 municipalities. The HUD San Juan Field Office is assisting the Southwest Signature Project with the Rural Partners Network.
The emotive expressions from Pastor Benjie Toro from the Southwest Rural Network told of the urgent need for repairing and building houses for the community, as well as the need for public services and commercial business to retain the population and leave a better Guánica for future generations. The Southwest Rural Network works with the communities of Siberia, Arenas, and Esperanza in Guánica with the goal of providing planning, project management, and funding support for economic development projects and a community landbank plan.
Representatives from the three networks shared first-hand stories, needs, and aspirations for their communities. A variety of panels included presentations on programs and opportunities from HUD, Department of Transportation (DOT), and Economic Development Administration (EDA), to name a few. All shared valuable information with the audience of rural communities, local government agencies, and non-profit organizations.
Rural Housing Service Administrator Joaquin Altoro highlighted how developing housing has become an economic engine in small towns and rural communities. Particularly, he touched upon the possibilities when connecting community facilities with workforce housing, such as health facilities and housing for doctors and nurses.
This successful forum is one of many first steps undertaken by the Rural Partners Network collaborators across Puerto Rico to shine a spotlight on rural communities and leverage the connections and knowledge of federal agencies to get these communities closer to achieving their goals.