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Campaign for Permanent Housing Solutions in Haiti
By Mina Remy
August 1st, 2012
Article 22 of Haiti’s 1987 Constitution guarantees adequate housing to all Haitians, yet hundreds of thousands of Haitians are languishing in makeshift tents two and a half years after the January 2010 earthquake. Countless others have been forcibly evicted from those tents, but no one knows exactly where they have gone. While housing projects in the capitol languish, USAID and the World Bank are funding a massive industrial park in the north of the country to entice foreign investors to bring in business. In response, Grassroots International joins dozens of Haitian grassroots groups and international organizations to call for a permanent housing solution that puts Haitian people ahead of foreign business interests in rebuilding the country.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the number of rehabilitated houses, new housing construction, and dispersed rental vouchers issued by the Martelly Administration could not possibly accommodate the nearly 1.1 million people who have vanished from camps throughout the country, especially in prominent areas of Port-au-Prince. The people who remain in the camps do so out of necessity. For the past year and a half, there has been a dramatic decline in service provision to camp residents. For instance, residents do not have access to potable water or sanitation. Considering the ongoing cholera epidemic in the country, limited access to clean water and proper sanitation is a recipe for disaster.
In late 2011, the Martelly Administration launched its 16/6 plan, which calls for rehabilitating 16 earthquake affected neighborhoods and closing six camps in 100 days. The plan also provides $500 in rental or housing repair subsidy to induce residents to leave the camps. In total, the plan targets 30,000 of the 500,000 people living in camps at the time it was launched. So far, the plan is on track to close all six camps, but new housing construction in those neighborhoods are nowhere in sight. A recent household survey led by Nicole Phillips of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) found that 40 percent of families [who have left camps under the plan] reported living in worse conditions than before the earthquake.
Chronic housing shortage and land titling have plagued Haiti for decades; however, the earthquake exacerbated both problems. First, buildings that housed Haitian public records were destroyed during the earthquake, further complicating the already difficult process of adjudicating competing claims to land. Second, 1.5 million people were made homeless in the days following the earthquake. (This figure does not include thousands who were absorbed by rural communities.) Many of the homeless lived in precariously built homes in shantytowns on the sides of deforested mountains or near ravines before the earthquake. And finally, neither the administration of then-President Rene Preval nor current President Michel Martelly have shown a real interest in tackling the root causes of the housing and land titling problem in Haiti.
But while the pace of new housing construction has been slow, the government has found land for industrial parks, hotels, and other foreign investments by expropriating land from private owners and turning over State-owned land to investors. Most countries, including Haiti, have eminent domain laws which allow national or municipal government entities to commandeer private property for public use so long as owners are properly compensated. Yet, rather than use this law to create housing for its citizens, the government of Haiti has chosen to prioritize foreign investors.
One example of this is the Caracol Industrial Park in Cap-Haitien. Caracol is being built in an area unaffected by the earthquake on fertile agricultural land near a mangrove conservation site. Funded by the USAID and the Inter-American Development bank, once completed Caracol will house mainly low-paying textile jobs. Recently, the New York Times published a report and accompanying video detailing the short-sightedness of those who have promoted Caracol as a solution to Haiti’s on-going poverty and unemployment problems.
In light of the inhumane conditions in the camps and constant threat of forced evictions facing residents, Haitian grassroots organizations and their international allies launched Under Tents on July 2, 2012. The campaign calls for permanent housing solutions for the nearly 400,000 people who are still living in displacement camps:
Haiti’s homeless are demanding that the government immediately halt all forced evictions until public or affordable housing is made available. They request that the Government of Haiti, with the support of its allies and donor governments in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, move quickly to: (1) designate land for housing (2) create one centralized government housing institution to coordinate and implement a social housing plan and (3) solicit and allocate funding to realize this plan.
Join the campaign today. Lend your voice to the campaign by joining Grassroots International and our allies in demanding permanent solutions to this crisis. Haiti’s camp residentshave already waited two and a half years too long for permanent housing. Let’s remind the government of Haiti that tents and temporary shelters are not houses.