Clinton launches Haiti housing project

Reconstruction efforts; Will bring new industries, thousands of jobs to country: former U.S. president

The Montreal Gazette        June 16, 2011

Former United States president and special United Nations envoy Bill Clinton (left) confers with Haitian President Michel Martelly during the inauguration of a construction project of 400 houses for 400 families in Les Zoranger, north of Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. Photo by: THONY BELIZAIRE, AFP/Getty Images

ORANGIER, HAITI – Under the relentless sun of this desert region a few kilometres north of the teeming capital of Port-au-Prince, former U.S. president Bill Clinton helped launch a housing program Wednesday he said would help to house the hundreds of thousands of displaced by the earthquake and revitalize the economy of Haiti.

“When Mr. (Michel) Martelly was campaigning to become president . he said every family deserves strong, safe, affordable housing, and that we need to close the camps and open homes for the people of Haiti,” said Clinton, who is co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission that is co-ordinating reconstruction efforts.

“What we saw at this housing exposition and with this housing project is that if we do this housing properly, it will lead to whole new industries being started in Haiti, creating thousands and thousands of new jobs and permanent housing. Which means there will many more people able to afford the new houses.”

An estimated 250,000 people were killed and 300,000 homes destroyed in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit the Port-au-Prince region January 2010, leaving 1.5 million homeless. Eighteen months later, roughly 700,000 are still living in miserable tent camps, with nowhere to go.

Clinton spent the early afternoon touring the Building Back Better Communities exposition, a collection of about 40 different houses chosen through a worldwide competition that had nearly 400 candidates. Houses had to be earthquake proof, capable of sustaining hurricaneforce winds and affordable. Made of steel, stryrofoam, cinder blocks and concrete, among other designs, the houses were between 300 and 700 square feet, with price tags ranging from $10,000 to $35,000. Most could be built in a matter of days and are supposed to last at least 70 years.

Accompanied by newly elected President Martelly (wearing a baseball cap, “Prezidan” emblazoned on the front) and a throng of hundreds of Haitians, Clinton visited several of the homes and chatted with developers about technical specifications and lengthy delays getting supplies through Haitian customs despite the fact they were providing homes for a program run by the Haitian government.

Also at Wednesday’s conference, it was announced the government was embarking on its “400 pou 100” program, with the goal of building 400 homes in 100 days in suburbs of Port au Prince, at a cost of $30 million supplied by the Interamerican Development Bank. Martelly promised the communities would include opportunities for people to create businesses, addressing criticism of his government’s housing plan by aids groups that say it too often displaces city residents to far-flung areas with no jobs or services.



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