Haitians are working to provide access to good sturdy housing for everyone two years after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake. “I was one of the lucky ones,” says Joël Jean-Baptiste, a development expert and a leader of a savings and housing co-op in southeastern Haiti. “I didn’t lose any family, just a few possessions. So I’ve been helping with reconstruction ever since the quake on 12 January 2010.”
A year after the disaster, he and a small group of housing activists founded the Movement for Solidarity with Homeless People in Haiti (Mouvement de Solidarité avec les Sans-abri d’Haïti – Mososah), to create a network of co-ops for savings and housing. Co-ops are legally recognized and regulated in many areas of Haitian society, such as small business, agriculture and access to schooling, but there were none in housing.
The first housing co-op was launched in Jacmel on 4 December 2011 – the Southeastern Haiti Savings, Housing and Small Business Credit Co-op (CEL-CPME SE). Co-op members say they are the first positive and organized response from Haiti’s civil society to the earthquake. It aims to mobilize the savings of co-op members to provide cheap loans, since commercial banks charge far too much.
The co-op so far has 100 members, many of them with plans to build. “A lot of them already have their own house,” says Jacques Jean-Pierre, chairman of the co-op’s supervisory committee. “But they have lent us their savings to help others. We have to work together so everyone can have a decent life.”
Each construction project has to be approved by experts who check the safety of the terrain and the quality of materials. “We won’t allow just any building to be put up because the co-op would be responsible if anything went wrong,” says Jean-Pierre. “Everyone must be able to build his own house, however much money he has, but it must comply with earthquake and hurricane safety standards.” The co-op also makes loans to help small businesses move into the villages and neighborhoods built as a result of these savings.
Co-op membership costs 100 gourdes with a minimum deposit of 500 gourdes. Members set their own rate of saving according to their income and their plans. Nobody expects miracles. “We lend to those who can repay the loan,” says Ronald Joseph, a volunteer who runs Koperativ Lojman Sidès. The poorest people must look to the government, NGOs or international organizations. Partnerships with other groups are being sought.
Mososah also wants to draw up a serious housing plan over the next 15 years. After meetings with experts, it estimates that 800,000 more homes are needed by 2025 to adequately house the growing population. The new homes would be built in 400 new villages nationwide to strict construction norms and in environmentally sustainable and secure sites. Mososah would not supervise such a project. “Our goal is to make the government and the public aware of the situation,” says Jean-Baptiste. “We realized after the earthquake that the housing situation would get worse as time went by and that the government had no plan to improve it over the long term.”
The first building projects in Jacmel are expected to be launched by mid-2012 and Mososah is trying to create co-ops throughout the country. “At first we thought one co-op in each province would be enough but now we’re thinking of more than that,” says Jean-Baptiste. “To set them up, we have to bring together people who know each other, who live side-by-side and can create genuine communities.”