For years, squatters were ignored or used as political pawns as the bankrupt central government swung from crisis to crisis. That changed with Maria, which tore through these low-lying barrios with particular ferocity. Now, with no legal claim to their homes or the land they’re built on, squatters find themselves unmoored from federal aid — and high on the government’s list of priorities.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who took office in January, wants to fix his squatter problem by embracing it. He’s proposed giving 48,000 illegal settlers legal title to their land, a plan that could cost up to $30 million. He needs federal disaster aid to make the project work.

“Before the emergency, it was something we needed to do; now it’s a more ambitious project,” said Puerto Rico Housing Secretary Fernando Gil. “It would be helping out 48,000 people who thought that they couldn’t get any help.”