The Rush for a Slice of Paradise in Puerto Rico

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Many Puerto Ricans say they can no longer afford to remain in their homes with outside investors buying up properties and driving up prices. RINCÓN, P. R. — The last time strangers approached Samuel Sánchez Tirado while he was trimming his front lawn, he pretended to be the landscaper so that they would leave him alone. He knew what the uninvited visitors wanted, and he was tired of having the same conversation over and over again. Mr. Sánchez lives in Rincón, a seaside town in northwestern Puerto Rico famous for surfing and sunsets that has become a hot spot for wealthy investors looking for tax breaks. The visitors, like so many before them, were interested in buying his one-story home, which is a two-minute walk from the beach. It is not for sale, but that has not stopped the unsolicited offers from coming.“They don’t ask you for a price,” he said. “They just hand you a check and tell you to fill it out with whatever you think the house is worth.”These are boom times for investors flocking to idyllic towns all over Puerto Rico, some of them seeking to take advantage of tax incentives intended to attract new people and outside money to the cash-strapped island, which is working its way out of bankruptcy. The tax breaks’ appeal accelerated after the coronavirus pandemic prompted many companies to shift to remote work, inspiring Americans who live on the mainland to move to more temperate climes. But the influx of the affluent new settlers, who must acquire residency and buy property in Puerto Rico within two years of moving in order to keep the tax breaks, has pushed up home prices and displaced residents who can no longer afford to live in their hometowns. Hurricane Maria, which heavily damaged thousands of homes in 2017, had already prompted many residents to leave the island. The real estate boom, which began in San Juan, the capital, has extended across the island, as investors have started to move away from the metropolitan area and into smaller towns like Rincón. There are new arrivals beyond those seeking tax breaks who are also snapping up properties and driving up rents and home prices. But it is the finance and tech investors who have formally applied for tax-break status who have drawn the most attention. Many of them are cryptocurrency traders, who now hold weekly happy hours at a seaside bar in Rincón. A new barbecue food truck that opened in August accepts Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Shiba Inu, Solana and Litecoin for its mainland-style chicken. The creeping gentrification troubles many Puerto Ricans, who have become increasingly more forceful in questioning how an economy reliant on tax breaks for the wealthy can work for local residents increasingly unable to afford property.“It feels like Hurricane Maria placed a ‘For Sale’ sign on the island,” said Gloria Cuevas Viera, a Rincón resident who is helping to lead the fight against gentrification.

All data is taken from the source: http://nytimes.com
Article Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/31/us/puerto-rico-gentrification-investors.html

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