SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday toured a poor neighborhood along the polluted Martín Peña Channel where families have organized to clean up the estuary and stave off gentrification so they may stay in their homes.
Community organizer Livia Rodriquez accompanied the senator on a walking tour of the densely-populated neighborhood of shacks built on mangrove wetlands along the debris-clogged channel in the heart of the Puerto Rico’s capital city.
Rodriguez told Sanders that the more than 2,000 residents had formed a community land trust to protect their neighborhood from encroaching developers. She said the land trust was modeled on an affordable housing initiative which Sanders pioneered in the 1980s when he was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
The Martín Peña land trust gave residents a legal, long-term claim to land where their families have lived for generations.
Sanders told Rodriguez that he was “deeply impressed” and called the land trust “an excellent effort by a very poor community to fight to stay in homes they have lived in for decades against the forces of gentrification.”
Sanders applauded the example of grassroots democracy.
“You should be proud of what you accomplished under very difficult circumstances,” Sanders said during an impromptu news conference with Rodriquez a few steps away from the channel.
Rodriquez also has been instrumental in the effort to dredge and clean up the fetid channel.
Without sewers or storm water systems, frequent heavy rains on the Caribbean island cause the channel to spill over its banks and expose 27,000 residents to polluted waters that pose health risks for residents.