USAID now focusing on housing finance in Haiti

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - The U.S. Agency for International Development will shift from building houses to financing them for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the agency's chief for the Caribbean nation said Monday.

Mission director John Groarke said the agency will try to help people build their own homes through mortgages.

"There was definitely a shift, because USAID began to realize that building houses here is very complicated," Groarke said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We feel that we can reach and help more people through creative financing."

An October report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office criticized the USAID effort to provide housing as part of the Caracol Industrial Park, which is the United States' biggest investment in Haiti since the quake destroyed thousands of homes and displaced 1.5 million people.

The number of people still living in grim encampments of quake survivors is now at 170,000, the International Organization for Migration says. Many Haitians left the camps not because new housing became available but because they received rental subsidies or were evicted by landowners.

USAID had aimed to build 15,000 houses but now plans to build only 2,649, the report said.

The GAO report raised questions about the efficacy and the future of the $300 million Caracol Industrial Park. The U.S. has invested more than $124 million in it.

Backers say that once completed, the facility will create 20,000 to 65,000 much-needed jobs, but only 1,450 Haitians have been hired so far, the GAO report said.

There are only three tenants, but Groarke said a fragrance company and a personal-care products company are likely to move in soon.

"I don't think anybody would've realistically expected that there would be a lot of tenants moving in right away," Groarke said.

Groarke said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently hired an engineer to oversee construction of a port to serve the industrial park.

The new port near Caracol is vital to the project's success, in part because the tenants have had to use a more costly port in the neighboring Dominican Republic and a smaller one in the nearby city of Cap-Haitien.

A new port will cost between $185 million and $257 million, the GAO report said. USAID officials hope someone in Haiti's private sector will pitch in to help cover the costs, but Groarke said no one had yet done so.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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