Haiti’s horrendous housing crisis

Some Haitians have taken matters into their own hands, while others wait for a new life.
August 16, 2012 14:32

Haiti tentcity rights

A woman walks in a tent camp where people have been living since the earthquake on March 5, 2012 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Two years after the 7.0 magnitude quake that killed an estimated 316,000 people, much of Haiti is still in a crisis situation with tens of thousands living in tent camps. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
It’s no surprise that Haiti’s housing situation is still in crisis, even years after the quake that demolished much of the country. But the New York Times paints a shocking picture of arbitrarily distributed funds, a disturbing lack of hygienic facilities and a growing fear among poor Haitians that their time to rebuild will never come.

Although new neighborhoods are popping up left and right, built by international aid organizations and corporations, hundreds of thousands of Haitians won’t see safe housing any time soon.

According to the Times, new housing projects favor rural people who previously owned homes, as opposed to urban renters, many of whom have been biding their time, moving from tent to shelter to lean-to in camp after camp, ignored by the system they’re victims of.

“It’s the project syndrome — one neighborhood gets incredible resources, the next is in total limbo, or one camp gets rental subsidies, the next gets nothing,” said Maggie Stephenson, a senior technical adviser to UN-Habitat in Haiti, in the article. “We have to spread the remaining resources more equitably. Equity is essential, and so are durable solutions.”

But durable solutions are few and far between for those who rented before the quake, or similarly, those who owned homes that were red-tagged (meaning they were so damaged they were inhospitable) but who don’t have the money to either demolish or rebuild elsewhere. The camps aren’t any better than the 80,000 red-tagged homes, says the article, noting that at one camp known as Golgatha, “there is one shower for every 1,200 people, and one functional latrine for every 77.”

Resettlement projects, which clear camps and relocate the people in them to make room for new housing, may be doing more harm than good, as the homes built are never numbered enough to support all of those removed to build them. The resettled people are shuffled from place to place, and supplies of food and money are starting to wear thin. Those living in these camps resent the forced evictions and violence has broken out with police, according to Amnesty International.

“Two years after the earthquake there is still no policy in terms of housing,” Gerardo Ducos, Haiti researcher at Amnesty International told AlertNet in February.

“The vast majority of construction has been temporary shelters with a life span between two, maximum five years. There’s no plan, no strategy to make temporary shelters more permanent structures and provide people with access to basic services like water.”

More from GlobalPost: Infrastructure project in Haiti too good to be true

Even the big pet project of Bill Clinton and President Michel Martelly, a complex of 400 homes at Zoranje north of Port-au-Prince, hasn’t yet been opened to the public because it’s not attached to a water supply despite being open to government employees since February. Meanwhile, a controversy continues over a planned housing community, manufacturing plant and harbor built by Japanese manufacturer Sae-A, which some say will create few jobs and little housing — at the expense of the environment.

Some Haitians are taking matters into their own hands, instead of waiting around for more empty promises and luck.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, there are tens of thousands of people living in an area previously called Corail, now dubbed Canaan. Reports differ on exactly how many people live in the community, which has no water or electricity, and the number could be anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000.

The area is dry and vulnerable, and promised aid doesn’t come fast enough. Only about 1,000 homes have been built, by NGOs and the Inter-American Development Bank, so the settlers have taken it upon themselves to build communities and pop-up houses.

There is no paperwork. Possession of a plot in Canaan either happens by taking land by force, or by paying money to opportunists who snatched up large plots early and have been selling them off to settlers fed up with living in Port-au-Prince. The blog HeartofHaiti details what it’s like for a settler to build a home and make peace with encroaching neighbors looking for more room in a video with a distinctive Wild West feel.

Still, not all displaced people can manage living like they do in Canaan, building homes from scratch and relying on the community for protection and help when it’s needed. So, what is the solution to properly housing Haitians?

There simply doesn’t seem to be one.


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