Lack of Adequate Housing Plan “Most Glaring Failure of the Past Year”

October 13, 2011

Last Thursday, Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported on Haitian President Michel Martelly’s plan, announced some time ago, to return inhabitants of six IDP camps back to 16 neighborhoods, known as the 16-6 plan. Charles writes:

For weeks, families like Simin’s have quietly moved out of the camp and into permanent homes as part of a housing initiative launched by Haitian President Michel Martelly. With help from the International Organization for Migration, families are getting $500 in rental subsidies. It’s part of a larger program Martelly launched recently to target the town square and five other Port-au-Prince tent cities hoping to find a permanent solution to reconstruction’s most vexing problem: housing.

The program has won the support of the international community, with U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis recently telling the UN Security Council, that “[t]he use of the neighborhood returns approach, instead of mere camp evictions, is the type of humane approach the United States fully supports.” Yet the plan has already come under serious criticism and rather than limiting evictions, multiple camps in the plan have already been forcibly evicted. Journalist Justin Podur wrote last week that even if the program works, its effectiveness will be limited:

In total, if the program succeeds, it will touch 5000 families, or 4% of the camp population. I spoke to the director of 16-6, Clement Belizaire. So far, 190 families have been resettled from the first camp, Place St. Pierre, in Petionville. Belizaire expects the 1500 families who live in the first two camps, Place St. Pierre and Place Boyer, to be in their neighbourhoods by the end of November. He expects the process to speed up as it progresses. If Belizaire’s estimates are extrapolated for all six camps, 4% of Haiti’s current camp population will be in housing by March 2012.

Also last week, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and the University of San Francisco School of Law released a report criticizing the lack of progress in Martelly’s housing plan. The report points out that, among other faults, two of the six camps in Martelly’s plan have already been forcibly evicted:

In the meantime, one camp was closed in July (Stade Sylvio Cator) and one camp partially closed (Place St. Pierre), both without the protections or benefits promised in the Martelly plan. The families living at Stade Sylvio Cator were unlawfully evicted by the Mayor of Port-au-Prince and Haitian National Police without a court order, as required under Haitian law. The police destroyed residents’ tents and belongings, prompting condemnation from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

(Residents of another camp on public land, in a park across from the St. Anne’s Church, have also just reported being threatened with forced eviction, supposedly to take place in the coming days.)

IJDH and USF School of Law undertook a survey in the six camps slated for closure to gauge the opinions and needs of camp residents. They found that conditions in the camps were “desperate” as family members “often go without any food or safe drinking water.” Additionally, there was very little consultation with those affected. As the report states:

In the five remaining camps still open, 38 percent of the households surveyed had heard of plans to close their camp. Of those, 53 percent learned from rumor from other residents, and only 12.7 percent heard it from a government official, the UN, IOM, or an NGO. Many complained that no details of the camp closure or relocation were provided. Only one respondent had heard of a date his camp would be closed (which was incorrect). Eighty-two percent of residents had not been consulted on their opinion for closure of their camp.

In the case of those evicted from Stade Sylvio Cator, the survey found that:

violence and threats of violence were used by Haitian authorities during the eviction in July. Thirty-five percent reported having been physically harmed or threatened with physical harm during the government’s eviction, while 30 percent reported destruction of their shelter or belongings.

A member of the Martelly administration working on the housing plan said that at least part of the relocation money came from the national treasury.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents described the new government camp as having worse access to security, lighting, clean toilets, water and food compared with the stadium.

Justin Podur visited Camp Bicentenaire where some of those evicted from Stade Sylvio Cator were relocated. Podur writes:

Camp Bicentenaire has been touted as a resettlement success story. It is on the national highway and has over 50 families, who were resettled from the camp at Port au Prince’s stadium, Sylvio Cator, on July 15. With Port-o-lets – some overflowing and others fallen over – for the camp located at the median of the highway, and garbage dumped directly into a ditch by the highway side, the camp has had no real support from the government or the NGOs besides the 10,000 gourdes (about $250 USD) that each family got in a negotiated agreement to resettle. The camp has the same kinds of problems with security as it does with sanitation. According to Mathias Jordanson of the camp committee, there has been one visit from a government official since July 15, and he’s aware of no further plan for the camp.

The lack of adequate solutions to the housing crisis led Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group to tell the Miami Herald that “Haiti’s failure to adopt a national housing resettlement and reintegration strategy ‘stands as the most glaring failure of the past year.’”

In addition to stopping forced evictions, the IJDH and USF report recommends significantly greater outreach to communities, including being accountable to those who are most affected and creating more durable solutions. As the report notes, “Small payments to displaced families that are not tied to a comprehensive housing assistance program fail to conform with the ‘durable solutions to displacement’ required by the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”.

The report concludes:

A rights-based approach to development ensures that the beneficiaries of aid are informed of the processes that affect their lives and have the opportunity to share their perspectives in a meaningful way. Haitians at all levels have found themselves left out of the decision-making processes on aid distribution – from top government officials overwhelmed by the “republic of NGOs” operating in their country, to the communities left homeless by the earthquake and struggling to survive. International agencies have largely provided humanitarian services through a top-down approach, making decisions about peoples’ needs without obtaining meaningful input from the communities receiving the aid.

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