Sounding off on the Caracol housing fiasco in Haiti

Display signs show improvement plans around Caracol, Haiti. Photo by: Kendra Helmer / USAID

Post-quake housing projects in Haiti have been wrought with higher-than-expected costs, missing land titles and poor planning. Now, the U.S. Agency for International Development has pulled out of a housing project under way surrounding the Caracol Industrial Park in the country’s north.

The Inter-American Development Bank, the partner on the project, is scrambling to sort out how to reorganize funds, timeline and other details so that it can complete the building of somewhere close to the 1,000 houses originally planned.

The industrial park itself was controversial, as it was planned using reconstruction funds from the earthquake and in a context that is out-of-touch with Haiti, activists say, since the majority of Haitians would prefer to stay near their livelihood networks in the country’s urban south, centered around Port-au-Prince.

Many argue that the housing was of poor quality to begin with — the reason USAID pulled out was harsh criticism over its prior housing projects built in Haiti, which were found to produce a very costly, reduced number of poorly built houses.

Devex took a closer look at the issue in this article, which sparked discussion by those disturbed with the wasteful spending shown by donors, particularly USAID, in Haiti’s housing sector.

Julio Bateau, a housing developer of Haitian descent, advised a mayor in Haiti to reject plans for this project after he reviewed the plans in 2011, calling them “ill-conceived” with “so many inexperienced personnel,” and calling the plan “a bad experiment at best,” he said.

“My government through USAID failed me miserably,” he added.

Dennis McMahon echoed the point of many activists — that donors acted in haste and panic in response to the earthquake in lieu of viewing housing in Haiti as a long-term, sustainable development situation.

Devex reader Steve Bevington also added his voice to other advocates who argued agencies should subcontract work to the groups most knowledgeable of the conditions on the ground because, as he said, “the reality is housing provision is a specialized exercise.”

Devex reader Peter Tal added that the Caracol project harkened memory of two USAID projects with similar outcomes, where failures were caused by inexperienced planners and unrealistic cost-benefit analysis that are instead used for budget approval, as well as inexperienced implementers.

“One should wonder how it is possible to continue wasting the taxpayers’ money on such projects with no measurable results,” Tal said.

What action needs to be taken to address the housing crisis in post-quake Haiti? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Claire Luke

    Claire is a journalist passionate about all things development, with a particular interest in labor, having worked previously for the Indonesia-based International Labor Organization. She has experience reporting in Cambodia, Nicaragua and Burma, and is happy to be immersed in the action of D.C. Claire is a master's candidate in development economics at the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs and received her bachelor's degree in political philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross.