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Housing in Haiti - what are the prospects almost four years after the earthquake?

Housing is a fundamentally important issue in post-earthquake Haiti for three reasons: firstly, the country suffers from a chronic shortage of housing; secondly, the poor quality of housing was to a great extent responsible for the major human loss caused by the earthquake; and thirdly, the number of people who urgently needed to be re-housed after the earthquake was estimated to be almost two million. As a result, the problem of (re)housing was not one of re-establishing pre-earthquake “normality”, but of establishing a decent and secure environment (thus linking quantity and quality); it was important not to repeat the errors of the past. Today, more than four years after the earthquake, the situation has evolved: intensive reconstruction of housing can be seen throughout the country, principally in the metropolitan region, and hundreds of thousands of people have been able to find either transitional or permanent shelter. However, taking into account the large amount of anarchic construction and the impossibility of instigating strong leadership in this area, housing construction is still not contributing to genuine “recovery”. Despite the involvement of a certain number of institutions in the construction of housing (reconstruction support, training, etc.), more and more houses continue to be built without being controlled by the public authorities. There appears to be real difficulty in making progress in reinforcing Haiti’s institutions.

 Institutional housing construction initiatives

The Haitian state never planned to be directly involved in housing construction – that is to say, in the role of project manager. This, at least, is what it said from the beginning in the National Housing Policy document [1] : “The role of the state is above all to support families and the private sector to allow them to build affordable, safe and quality homes, via a concerted effort in training, information and respect for norms [2]”. The UCLBP went as far as to discourage the supply of all-inclusive houses, which it felt would break the momentum of the housing market and would force the state into a position where it was not in control. The decision to not launch a public housing programme was based on the idea that families would self-build; in general, Haitian families either build their houses themselves or have their houses built. According to the Institut Haïtien de Statistiques et d’Informatique (IHSI), more than 80% of house owners either built their house themselves or had them built [3]. The decision to not supply finished houses was more or less respected from the beginning of the reconstruction phase, the majority of donors having also been unwilling to get involved in projects of this kind.

Despite this reticence, a certain number of housing construction projects have nevertheless been conducted, or are being conducted in the metropolitan region of Port-au-Prince and in other towns and regions in the country. The Swiss donor, Swiss Solidarity, for example, has funded the construction of several thousand houses via NGOs in the Palmes and Sud-Est regions. In addition, a large number of houses are being built in Gressier, Léogâne and Cabaret, notably with aid from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In terms of the state, several housing construction initiatives have been launched since 2011. The Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MICT) instigated a programme called Katye Pam Poze (My Neighbourhood is Peaceful) in 2012 which aimed to build houses in certain provincial towns, particularly the main departmental towns in the country. However, information about the cost and the total number of houses built or to be built, the construction calendar, the current level of progress and procedures for choosing beneficiaries have not been made public. This project, run by the Ministry of the Interior, does not appear to have involved the public authorities that usually look after housing (l’Entreprise Publique de Promotion de Logements sociaux, l’Unité de Construction de Logements et Bâtiments Publics). The Morne-à-Cabris (also known as Lumane Casimir) project is another example of state housing construction. Representing an investment of more than 48 million dollars (36 million Euros), its aim is to house or re-house more than 3000 families in a newly established neighbourhood. This was also launched in a very discreet way, with very little information divulged to the press. The Haitian Prime Minister, Laurent S. Lamothe, said during a meeting with the Haitian Senate’s Economic and Financial Commission that Mone-à-Cabris housing project is, in fact, the project which was formerly planned for Fort-National (carried by the former Government of Jean Max Bellerive) [4].

In addition to these housing construction activities, there are also planning programmes in certain neighbourhoods in the metropolitan region (Villa-Rosa, Haut-Turgeau, Ballargeau, Martissant, Christ-Roi…) funded by the European Union, the World Bank, the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, the United Nations and the French Development Agency which aim to revitalize neighbourhoods while improving housing and access to basic services [5].

[1] By the Unité de Construction de Logements et de Bâtiments Publics (UCLBP), April 2012.

[2] Digital version, Page 7.

[3] IHSI (2003): Enquête sur les conditions de vie, 2003.

[4] Reported in an article in Ayiti Kale Je, available on the Alter-Presse website, http://www.alterpresse.org/spip.php, consulted on 26 September 2013.

[5] Housing construction projects run by institutions are not always legal or overseen by the state. The study, “Reconstruction and the Environment in Haiti: Morne L’Hôpital – a case of collective denial” showed that these projects are often anarchic in nature.