Housing Is Our Battle: Two Years after the Earthquake in Haiti

Protestor sign reads: If there is land for factories, there should be land for housing
Protestor sign reads: If there is land for factories, there should be land for housing
Remember, you are marching today for those who couldn’t be here,
To say to them, “We haven’t forgotten. We’ll never forget.”
And to say to those that are still here,
We will take a stand for the rebuilding of Haiti.
– Right to Housing Collective, January 12, 2012

On the morning of January 12, 2012, a group of women, children and men wound their way through the city wearing white, the Haitian color for mourning. Part memorial, they deposited wreaths of flowers on sites that had become mass graves during the 2010 earthquake, and part protest, they carried a banner that read “Two years later: Enough is enough.” They alternated between singing a funeral dirge and chanting, “We need houses to live in!”

Haitian social movements have reclaimed douze janvye, January 12, as a symbol of moving forward. Two years later, 520,000 [i] continue to live in appalling conditions in displacement camps. And so, on January 11 and 12, thousands of Haitians – peasant farmers, activists, and displacement camp residents – took to the streets to denounce the situation in tent camps and the forced evictions of residents, and to call on the Haitian government to undertake land reform, provide public housing, and protect women’s rights.

Although political and social divisions have long fissured Haitian movements, organizations from across historic divides are demanding many of the same things. One clear, common emphasis is the immediate need for land and housing for the displaced.

Excerpts from declarations and speeches on or around January 12, all with a focus on the right to housing, follow.

From a joint press conference of the International Lawyers’ Office (BAI) and residents of Camp Mariani, denouncing the threat of illegal forced eviction by the landowner in complicity with the local government:

We raise our voices to denounce with all of our might, before the national and international community, the threat of forced eviction, and arbitrary and illegal acts of violence being carried out against us by the major. We can’t take the pressure anymore. We ask all the institutions involved (the president, the government, the mayor, NGOs assisting displaced people, human rights organizations, etc.) to press, press our case, to take this issue into consideration so that the government and mayor sign a moratorium to block the aggression against people living in this camp, to plan what should be done with regards to displaced people, to respect the rights that we have as people. As Article 22 of this country’s constitution and Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declare, “All people have the right to housing.”

From a speech given by Marie Frantz Joachim of Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA), on behalf of the National Coordination of Women’s Organizations (KONAP), composed of a wide variety of feminist organizations, during the January 12, 2012 memorial march:

Out of respect for the battle our ancestors carried out, we too undertake the struggle to force our leaders to take responsibility for… the people living under tents. The housing problem is a structural problem and demands a structural response. Displaced Haitians cannot continue to live in the chicken cages that are being constructed for them. Haitians should be living in dignity…  And so we say, “This is our battle: the right for people to live in adequate housing.” And we ask that everyone in the social movement, all organizations, come together so that we can clearly, collectively, respond.

From the Eye-to-Eye Platform (Platfòm Je nan Je), a 12-member grouping that includes four of Haiti’s largest peasant associations, in a declaration to the Haitian Parliament following a march attended by thousands of protestors:

The Eye-to-Eye Platform supports people from all four corners of the country by submitting the following demands and recommendations to the government:

  • Remove people from under tents as quickly as possible; but that doesn’t mean to send them back to pre-existing slums or to the shantytowns created after the earthquake;
  • The government must implement a disaster risk management plan to identify safe construction sites, with land for farming set apart from land for housing;
  • The government must create and implement a housing policy, with urban planning and zoning; In this plan we must clearly see what needs to be done in both urban and rural areas; This plan needs to designate responsibility for land and housing to state institutions;
  • Guarantee the security of displaced people, especially in the places to which they are being relocated.

From the report by the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), one of Haiti’s most prominent human rights organizations: Advocacy for the Situation of January 10, 2010 Earthquake Victims:

Recommendations of RNDDH to the relevant institutions:

  • Plan an effective re-location strategy with the participation of displaced people;
  • Develop a public housing policy with the involvement of the Haitian government’s own Public Enterprise for the Promotion of Social Housing (EPPLS);
  • Strengthen state institutions necessary to effectively control the situation in camps and relocation sites;
  • Insist that all actors involved in rebuilding the country adopt a human rights-based approach to everything that they do.

From a speech by Colette Lespinasse and Reyneld Sanon of the Right-to-Housing Collective, made up of 30-some Haitian organizations, grassroots groups and displacement camp associations.

We, organizations of survivors living in internally displaced persons’ [IDP] camps, as well as social and grassroots organizations, state:

  • The government must define a land use policy for the country;
  • The Parliament must draft and vote on a law to guarantee the right to housing;
  • The government must look for and acquire land though expropriation [eminent domain] so that there is sufficient space to respond to the housing needs of the population;
  • Women, children and the disabled, and the population in general must participate in decision-making regarding housing;
  • All neighborhoods should be places where people can live in dignity and security.

We resolve to remain mobilized in the struggle to change our society and our government. We resolve to regain the sovereignty of our country to construct a society in which we can enjoy guaranteed access to housing and all our fundamental rights.

From a presentation on housing in Camp Carradeux on January 12, 2012 by Olrich Jean Pierre of Noise Travels, News Spreads (Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye), an alternative media group doing advocacy and public education:

When we struggle for housing, we’re not just asking for houses. There are other services that should accompany housing. A house in an area where potable water isn’t available does not respect the right to housing. People need access to healthcare.  The battle for housing is not simply a battle for 4 square meters to live in. It’s a battle for public schools to educate our children so that they don’t have to go work in factories. It’s a battle to have access to healthcare when we’re sick.

We’re not just mobilizing to denounce the situation. No, the struggle before us is the struggle to pressure the government, to ask them, “Where are the houses that you’ve prepared for us?” And then to ask if there are toilets inside of them. Because we are a people with dignity. And with rights that need to be respected.

[i] HAITI Emergency Shelter and Camp Coordination Camp Management Cluster, Displacement Tracking Matrix V2.0 Update, November 30, 2011.

See Other Worlds’ recent article, Home: From Displacement Camps to Community in Haiti, for more detail on the right-to-housing movement in Haiti and how Haitian organizations are responding with advocacy and alternatives.

Photo by Ben Depp. www.bendep.com