Housing Crisis in Haiti

Five years after the disastrous Haitian earthquake, problems still abound.

Many tout a large decrease in tent camps, but today more than 85,000 people inhabit remaining camps. This estimate does not account for the informal settlement of Canaan, where up to 200,000 live on the outskirts of town without water, electricity or other basic infrastructure.

Post-earthquake, many international donors began building houses. Lacking the much-needed expertise to take on such large housing projects combined with minimal centralized planning, they were fraught with problems.
$500 million were spent on transitional shelters, or T-shelters: small, lightweight structures not meant to last more than 3 years. In comparison, less than half of that amount went to permanent housing projects. 5 years later, families are still living in these non-permanent t-shelters.

Despite this, there are some promising models offered by Haitian civil society organizations who have been working on the ground for decades. This experience means several things:

1) Culturally & socially appropriate housing: they build according to what other Haitians want and need
2) Strengthening local capacities: they emphasize local participation and foster community ownership of the project
3) Cost-savings: perhaps not surprisingly, these local organizations can build cheaper houses than any international agency
4) Economic stimulation: local purchasing, production and jobs all help bring economic stimulation to a community.

This past November, leaders from these housing organizations came to Washington for a housing conference, sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee & Church World Service to discuss the ongoing housing crisis and offer solutions to ensure Haitians’ right to housing is realized. The recommendations that emerged from the conference are available in a 1 page & more detailed 2 page format at the back of the room. Briefly, they are:

1. Forced evictions must be stopped, and human rights protectors must be defended
2. Create a Ministry of Housing to cut waste, provide centralized direction, and operationalize the existing national housing plan.
3. Government and international NGO housing construction projects must look to Haitian civil society’s example and consider partnership.
4. Land tenure issues must be resolved, with the Haitian government as a key player in the discussion
5. Dialogue on housing issues among government and civil society actors in Haiti must continue

While scaling the work of small organizations is an obstacle to the expansion of their models, supporting holistic, community-based housing solutions must be a priority.
As one of our partners discussing housing solutions recently said, “More than houses – people need homes.” Let this idea shape US policies and housing efforts that could offer a higher standard of living that all Haitians deserve.

-Prepared by Charissa Zehr, legislative associate for international affairs, for an event around the 5 year anniversary of the earthquake. These recommendations resulted from a conference titled, “Fooling the Sun, Not Fooling the Rain: Housing & Shelter in Haiti 5 years after the earthquake” that MCC hosted in Washington, D.C. last November. 

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