Rebuilding’s Biggest Roadblock

December 17, 2012

By Anne Myers: Government Relations and Advocacy Project Coordinator, Habitat for Humanity International

Last week, I joined more than 600 volunteers, including President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn for Habitat for Humanity International’s 29th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Haiti. There we built 100 homes with families affected by the devastating 2010 earthquake. We all saw, firsthand, that while much work remains to be done progress is being made. Although nearly 400,000 survivors remain homeless more than 1 million people have been resettled and construction has begun on several projects, including roads, schools and hospitals.

What’s clear in Haiti is that the process of rebuilding is slow and that land tenure remains the biggest roadblock to rebuilding.

Natural disasters can severely exacerbate concerns over land tenure. If deaths are not formally documented, claims on land by heirs are complicated, if not impossible. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity are unable to rebuild when the owner of the land is unclear. Building shelter is risky when one is unable to determine who owns the land or who will have rights to the shelter once it’s finished. Putting Haitians back into homes without security of tenure will put them at risk of evictions and above-market rents.

This is why Habitat, in addition to helping families directly access better housing, has implemented an advocacy program related to land in Haiti by taking a leadership role in developing the Haiti Property Law Working Group. The working group, made up of nearly 100 stakeholders, has met monthly since June 2011. It has developed clear goals, objectives and priorities and has completed the first in a series of four land transaction manuals designed to support the understanding, focus and capacity of Haiti to deal with long-standing land issues.

The first manual, titled “Haiti Land Transaction Manual, Vol.1: A How-to Guide for the Legal Sale of Property in Haiti,” (French version here) was completed in August 2012  Initial training materials based on the first manual are currently being developed. Other important aspects of secure tenure and land rights in Haiti will be addressed in future manuals, including land disputes and eminent domain.

Habitat knows it can’t build houses for everyone in Haiti who needs better shelter. But, by working in coalition with others, Habitat can make adequate housing possible for all Haitians by improving the policies and systems that affect housing and land.


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