Who Actually Lives in the Houses Built After Haiti’s Earthquake?

This is an edited and condensed version of an original report by Haiti Grassroots Watch on January 8, 2014 and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

Four years after the January 12 2010 earthquake, questions haunt the four main post-disaster housing projects built by the governments of René Préval and Michel Martelly. Who lives in them? Who runs them? Can the residents afford the rents or mortgages? Are the residents the earthquake victims?

By some estimates, the catastrophe killed some 200,000 people and made 1.3 million homeless overnight. But the new projects do not necessarily house earthquake victims, over 200,000 of whom still live in tents or in the three large new slums called Canaan, Onaville and Jerusalem.

Empty homes at the heart of the Lumane Casimir Village. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

Empty homes at the heart of the Lumane Casimir Village.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

An investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch involving over 20 interviews and many visits discovered that, even though there are newly housed families, many – probably the majority – are not necessarily victims of the earthquake. Several others are plagued with lack of services and persistent acts of vandalism, theft and waste.

Homes Too Expensive

On July 21 2011, President Martelly, former US President Bill Clinton and then-Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive inaugurated the Housing Exposition: a fair featuring about 60 model homes in Zoranje.

One of the first projects approved by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the Expo cost over US$ 2 million in public reconstruction money. Foreign and Haitian construction and architecture firms also spent at least US$ 2 million more. The objective was to provide models for the agencies and businesses engaged in post-earthquake housing construction.

Everyone agrees the Expo was a failure. Few visited the site and fewer still chose one of the model homes – many of which were very expensive by Haitian standards – for their project.

According to David Odnell, director of the government’s Unit for the Construction of Housing and Public Buildings (UCLBP), one of three government agencies involved with the housing question:

There were some really odd examples. Some of them had nothing to do with the way we Haitians live or think about housing. It was a completely imported thing.

Today, surrounded by weeds and goats, the fading and cracked houses are home to dozens of squatters.

A young pregnant girl who said her parents are “renters”, explained:

All the houses have new owners. They have been taken over.

[More at Global Voices]