Haiti Faces Challenges Housing a Nation

Three years after an earthquake destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, an unfathomable number of Haitians are still looking for a permanent place to rest.

Posted: 01/11/2013 12:15 PM EST

While Haiti can be proud of a few successes from over the past three years, housing isn’t one of them.

Despite a constant parade of donors, volunteers and international aid through Haiti in the three years since a massive earthquake rocked the country; advocates say a staggering number of Haitians are still living in temporary housing.

Yes, the numbers of people living in Haiti’s massive post-earthquake tent cities have dwindled since the initial tremors crumbled the homes of millions of families, but just because the tents are fewer, it doesn’t mean the “formerly displaced” are now comfortably settled in new homes, says Brian Concannon, director for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

Concannon says that although several large, public tent camps have closed (such as those near the airport and presidential palace); the number of new housing developments hasn’t reflected a similar increase.

“We’re confident that people were pushed out of the camps and either went to other camps where they’re off the radar screen or living in hillsides or condemned housing — anywhere they can,” Concannon told BET.com.

According to the Displacement Tracking Matrix, as of October 2012, an estimated 357,785 Haitians (nearly 90,415 households) were living in just 496 temporary housing sites across the earthquake affected areas.

While Concannon says there is an issue with relief funds being allocated for building housing, he says the larger issue lies with Haiti’s land laws.

“There is a problem with building new housing because the Haitian justice system can’t effectively say who owns the land,” Concannon said. “And as a result, those organizations that do have money for building housing are not comfortable building the houses because they’re afraid someone will say they own the land and take the houses they’ve built.”

The issue with housing Haiti’s displaced is one that stands at jarring odds with the country’s attempts to reform its international image. Since the earthquake, towering new hotel developments have sprung up, the airport has undergone major renovations and President Michel Martelly is touting Haiti as tourism’s next big comeback story.

But with basic necessities like housing still missing for so many, the country is continuing to have issues courting  some of its most well-meaning visitors — its diaspora.

Haiti’s issues with slow development have also impacted Haitians here in the U.S. who wish to return to Haiti.

“They’re not going to move back to a disaster zone,” Carine Jocelyn, executive director of Brooklyn-based Haitian community organization Diaspora Community Services told BET.com.  “A lot of young Haitians want to move back to Haiti, but there’s more a realistic view that money is dwindling, many organizations are leaving and it’s not an easy place to live.”

 

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(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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