“It was hoped that either a private sector or maybe an investor, or maybe a large donor would pick up and scale up one of these models. But this is where the money has run short,” said Jessica Faieta, the United Nations Development Program’s deputy regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Not far from the failed expo is one of the few donor-financed permanent housing projects that did happen. The 400 houses, also in Zorange, were financed by the Inter-American Development Bank for about $8 million, with construction overseen by the government.
The houses, however, remained unoccupied for about eight months before quake victims like Marie Therese Pierre were identified by a government agency and allowed to moved in. For Pierre, the sparsely furnished two-room house with a kitchen and bath, is a big upgrade from her poorly-constructed Cité Soleil house that fell in the quake.
But like other tenants, Pierre, 67, worries about being able to pay the monthly $35 to $47 monthly rent, depending on the model’s size.
“This can’t pay rent,” she said, pointing to the coffee brewing in an oversized pot that she sells.
The new homes being built are also rentals. Haiti’s still unreformed property laws prevent the sale and transfer of government land.
This has raised other concerns among critics of the project who say its desolate location about 10 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince makes it difficult, if not impossible, for incoming tenants to scrape a living.
Others like, Dr. William Pape worries about the public health implications of having so many people clustered so closely together. Founder of the region’s largest HIV/AIDS research clinic in the hemisphere, Pape has expanded his focus to the capital’s slums in the wake of the disaster.
“I think the intention was good to bring them there, but we could have done better,” said Pape, who has visited the site. “The ventilation is not good. I think people are sitting in cubicles; it’s almost in a prison. It should have been conceived better because when you bring people from their old shacks to a new place, they should see that their situation is improving.”
Rouzier said people’s situation will improve. As a model for decentralizing the overcrowded capital city, a new school, sporting center and $10 million industrial park to generate employment are being built at Morne-a-Cabris, named after a nearby mountain.
“Nobody did this before. It’s not like we have a book that we can just open,” he said. “We will make mistakes, but I rather a bad action than no action.”
In recent months, donors have commended the government for devoting units to housing, and creating a strategy document to address the country’s housing deficit.
With the lack of land and money still huge hurdles to providing some 500,000 houses over the next 10 years, some say the State should decide whether it’s better to build new public housing or invest in infrastructure, such as sanitation.
“This city is expected to double in population in 17 years,” Maggie Stephenson, senior technical adviser with UN Habitat in Haiti said about the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. “So the earlier strategic investments happen the better.”
One place where investments soon will happen is in the post-quake mountainside slum of Cannan, a few miles west of Morne-a-Cabris.
Clement Belizaire, director of the government’s camp relocation and rehabilitation program, said $20 million in roads, water treatment and lighting projects will soon be installed in the makeshift area, where tens of thousands of displaced quake victims live in illegal shanties.
The project is just one of the undertakings of Belizaire’s office, which is charged with clearing out six camps and rehabilitating 16 neighborhoods associated with those camps.
Recently, the office launched a pilot project to rebuild 19 two-story apartments for low-income homeowners in Morne Hercule, a community in Petionville. Belizaire hopes to replicate the project in other neighborhoods but he concedes that a lack of funding remains a huge issue.
“All of the big money is gone so we have to spend every single penny with a lot of wisdom.”