Perhaps you saw one of the many articles this January on what's been accomplished (or hasn't been accomplished) in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Amnesty International issued a full report on Housing in post-earthquake Haiti which gives an excellent view of the current situation. The statistics can seem disheartening; Haiti's recovery is anything but simple. However, there are proven methods that have worked, and which we continue to use, rebuilding Haiti one home at a time.
To know where we've come though, we should first consider where we started.
January 12, 2010
In 2010, a massive earthquake left over 2 million Haitians homeless. The earthquake destroyed or damaged roughly 250,000 homes.
As the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and with little infrastructure to begin with, the nation was unprepared to respond. International Aid agencies rushed to the scene, providing much needed medical care, food, and temporary shelter. However, as is often the case with natural disasters, the ruckus fades on news stations and the next big disaster beckons our attention elsewhere.
Where are they now?
As of September 2014, statistics show that over 85,000 people were still displaced and living in tent camps. However, what statistics do not always show is where the former residents of these camps have gone.
- Roughly 37,000 homes have been repaired or built by various organizations, including Homes from the Heart. However, only about 20% of these homes are permanent. Temporary housing, also known as T-shelters, instead became the common method to house displaced Haitians. These buildings were made to last from 3 to 5 years.
- Many people have been given rental subsidies from the Haitian government, good for one year. After the year is over, the majority move back into substandard housing.
- In addition, at least 60,000 people have been forcibly evicted from the camps since 2010.
A Permanent House, A Permanent Debt
Of the houses that have been built to be permanent, the costs incurred by many organizations make large scale construction unfeasible or the lifestyle unsustainable for their impoverished Haitian owners.
Many housing providers burden the residents with mortgages. However, even a small $5,000 mortgage paid without interest over 20 years costs $20.83 monthly. For a single mother making $1 to $2 a day and who struggles to feed her children, mortgage payments inevitably fall behind, and she is hindered from investing in a sustainable income for her family, such as a small business.
Some housing providers spend over $33,000 on each house, wasting resources and creating an unsustainable leap from abject poverty to a wealthier lifestyle.
The Way Forward
To be truly adequate, housing must:
- Have legal tenure.
- Be affordable.
- Be safe and habitable.
- Have access to services: sanitation, water, etc.
- Be accessible to all types of people, including disaster victims.
- Respect the local culture.
- Be built where employment is feasible and there are no toxic environmental threats.
Fortunately, this is exactly what we've been building in Haiti for the past 5 years.
To date, we've built 73 homes in Croix-des-Bouquets, roughly 1% of the total permanent homes that have been built for disaster victims in Haiti since the earthquake.
For a small nonprofit, that is no small feat.
The work that's already been accomplished is easily scalable; all that's needed is funding. A $5,000 home takes only one and a half weeks to build. In addition, our in-country director, Redeem, and all of our construction crew and materials are Haitian, contributing to the local economy. Families are not plagued by a mortgage. We consider owning land to be enough of an investment, and instead of cash payments, recipients help build their homes. This "sweat equity" gives the families a sense of pride and ownership in their home, and from then on, their finances will not be tied to basic shelter for survival.
What We Learned in the Junkyard
We know that this model works because it has proven successful in similar communities. In Soyapango, El Salvador, Homes from the Heart built an entire community with 150 homes for displaced Salvadorans. They had been living in a junkyard, or "chatarrera," with nowhere to go. With Homes from the Heart, the community came together to build a house for each family.
Once this basic human need was met, the residents' attention could be spent on more productive ends: a church and businesses naturally formed. What's more, when another group of displaced people was seeking shelter across the road, the residents of Chatarrera took the scraps from their old shelters to give to their neighbors. We built homes, but we also built community, imparting the value of charity. The second generation is now staying, choosing to call this former junkyard home.
Looking at poverty by the numbers can be overwhelming, but looking at poverty in stories like Chatarrera or Croix-des-Bouquets gives us hope. We can give the poor in Central America and Haiti safe, decent homes. Change does not come overnight. It happens one community at a time, one person at a time, and one heart at a time.
Sources and Further Reading:
Amnesty International: "Ten Facts About Haiti's Housing Crisis"
Amnesty International: "'15 Minutes to Leave' - Denial of the Right to Adequate Housing in Post-Earthquake Haiti"
National Public Radio: "5 Years After Haiti's Earthquake, Where Did The $13.5 Billion Go?"
United Nations Human Rights: "The Right to Adequate Housing Toolkit"