Housing Designer Finds Opportunity In Haiti's Crisis
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In Haiti, aid groups now have largely turned from emergency relief efforts to the next great need: Housing. Over a million people are estimated to be homeless. The rainy season is just a month a way, bringing the potential for flooding that could make a desperate situation even worse.
But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, first, some important questions have to be answered about the houses, including where to build them.
GREG ALLEN: It rained in Port-au-Prince this week, a brief but heavy downpour that's a foretaste of what's to come. The coming rains are spurring aid groups, the international community and the Haitian government to focus on building what they call transitional housing.
Patrick Delatour, Haiti's tourism minister and one of those directing the nation's reconstruction, was in Miami this week talking to groups that are bringing homes to Haiti. He said transitional housing can mean different things to different people.
Mr. PATRICK DELATOUR (Ministry of Tourism, Haiti): There's a lot of people's question that have to do also with culture and the attitude of the people themselves. The feeling is that, in fact, we'll be moving very fast into permanent housing or transitional solutions that have a tendency to become permanent.
ALLEN: It's an approach also embraced by aid groups working to bring housing to Haiti. CHF International, a relief group with long experience in housing, just received a $21 million grant from the U.S. to build homes there.
Randy Lyness with CHF, says the group has developed a simple structure, about 60 square feet made of wood, plastic sheeting and corrugated iron. Each structure costs less than a thousand dollars and can be put up in four hours. It's a housing design that's being used by many other aid groups, and which Lyness says eventually may lead to something more permanent.
Mr. RANDY LYNESS (Regional Director for Asia, CHF International): Housing in the developing world is by its very nature is a transitional process. People generally don't build their entire home all at once. The transitional shelter forms the core. They put on kitchen facilities or an additional room, or something like that, and little by little begin rebuilding their home.
ALLEN: CHF hopes to build 2,000 shelters by June 1st, the start of hurricane season. The International Federation of Red Cross is trucking in enough material to begin building 1,000 similar shelters - but where? That's a decision for the Haitian government, which up to now have been actively encouraging earthquake victims to leave the overcrowded capital.
This past week, Haitian authorities had a new message for the hundreds of thousands of people living in tent camps: Go back to your neighborhoods.
Lyness says aid groups have been encouraging the government to allow people to build transitional housing on the site of their old homes once the rubble is cleared away. An alternate proposal: resettling tens of thousands of Haitians to new camps outside the city, he says, is unworkable.
Mr. LYNESS: The issue surrounding settlements are so huge: Regarding security, regarding sanitation, regarding water provision and food. And at this stage, setting up a camp type structure is not going to result in the rapid deployment of transitional shelters.
ALLEN: In Miami, another plan for housing in Haiti was rolled out in a news conference this week. InnoVida, a company that builds modular homes, announced it was donating 1,000 specially designed cabins for people left homeless by the earthquake. The company also announced that it's building a factory in Haiti that will provide jobs and produce 10,000 houses a year.
InnoVida founder Claudio Osorio says the houses are built from specially designed fiber composite panels.
Mr. CLAUDIO OSORIO (Founder, InnoVida): So, very light, no heavy equipment and literally with unskilled labor the walls are put up - that can withstand hurricanes, that it's waterproof and, also, very important, it is 21 degrees flexible, meaning that in the case of a seismic event, the buildings will do very well.
ALLEN: Well-known Miami architect, Andres Duany, a leader in the new urbanist movement and an InnoVida board member, designed the cabin. It sounds hi-tech but actually looks simple: a boxy blue, flat roof structure with two-bedrooms and a small kitchen, and it sleeps eight.
After spending weeks talking to Haitians and others who study the culture, he says he made many design changes. Duany says he's seen too many failures in the past; homes built after disasters that ultimately didn't get lived in.
Mr. ANDRES DUANY (Architect, InnoVida): Even people who are so stressed out, that they really badly need housing, will not necessarily live in anything that cuts across their culture. Culture is so strong.
ALLEN: Haitian officials say they like InnoVida's design, but so far are non committal about where they'd like to see them built. One possibility would be new communities north of Port-au-Prince that may be developed to accommodate people from neighborhoods in flood plains and on mountainsides - places where rebuilding may not be possible.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.