Haiti’s housing crisis

Former ONE intern Veronica Weis updates our readers on the housing crisis in Haiti.

A tent city in Port au Prince. Photo credit: Logan Abassi/ UNDP
Two years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the estimated half million displaced victims face a new challenge. With help from a $20 million grant from the Canadian government, the Haitian government and its partners in the field have begun the grueling process of vacating those living in the temporary camps spread around the country.

The 4,641 families that have been living in Champ de Mars, a tent city in downtown Port-au-Prince, will be offered $500 each to relocate under their own terms. For many this will mean renting out a room with basic amenities, like a toilet and water.

Additional funds will be provided for relocating household items and for those with special needs, like single mothers, the elderly and people with disabilities. The project even features a $125 incentive for families who remain in their initial rental space after two months. The few who own their homes in Champ de Mars will receive $1,500 to demolish and rebuild if their property was structurally compromised.

Critics of the move cite a lack of viable rental spaces across the country since much of the damaged buildings are marked to be demolished or are in dire need of repair. Another 135,000 families residing in similar camps will not be as lucky as those in Champ de Mars. Under the current plan, the government cannot afford to offer them assistance, so their communities will remain slums.

But despite the hurdles, this latest step marks progress for a country that has been slow to recover. Shantytowns and slums — lacking running water and electricity — quickly become a breeding ground for crime and communicable diseases, as was tragically proven by the 2010 cholera epidemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people.

Providing the means for Haitians to settle into more permanent homes is the right move toward creating the kind of stability that Haiti will need to get back on its feet.

Veronica Weis is a former ONE new media intern and is currently a President William J. Clinton fellow for the American India Foundation.