Haiti creating home loan system to help in crisis

AP News
Posted: Nov 01, 2011 5:01 PM
Haiti creating home loan system to help in crisis

Haiti's struggle to rebuild homes for hundreds of thousands of quake victims may be giving the impoverished nation something it has never had: loans to help people buy them.

If efforts by international donors and local agencies succeed, at least a few members of Haiti's small middle class will be able for the first time to get a mortgage. Some of the efforts reach even further, offering micro-mortgages for families who make as little as $150 a month.

The hurdles will be significant in a nation where 70 percent are unemployed, many land titles were destroyed in the January 2010 quake and banks have little experience in offering loans to anyone but the country's tiny elite, leaving most of Haiti's 10 million people to rent their housing.

Even those who would seem to qualify are finding it a struggle.

Radio journalist Hertelou Vellette, who has worked for the same company for 11 years, has waited for more than two months to learn if a state bank will help finance a $52,000 two-bedroom prefabricated house.

And that's after he submitted title deeds, a letter of employment, bank statements for the past six months, credit card statements for the most recent three months, water and electricity bills, statements from other income sources, a land survey and a copy of his identity card.

He also had to pay a nonrefundable $500 fee for the application. Most Haitians don't have credit cards or a bank account, let alone $500, a sum greater than what most earn in six months.

What is not lacking is demand. About 500,000 people like Vellette are still without homes of their own following the earthquake. Most are holed up in flimsy tent-like shelters vulnerable to heavy wind and stormy weather.

The biggest international effort so far to create a mortgage market is a $47 million package backed by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It would give Haiti's private banks long-term liquidity at low, fixed interest rates so they can finance home repair loans, regular mortgages and micro-mortgages for 10,000 to 15,000 families.

The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund contributed $3 million to the plan and the World Bank's Haiti Reconstruction Fund approved a grant of $10 million. The U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which works with the private sector on development projects, has pledged $34 million, though the project is still awaiting approval by OPIC's board of directors.

"We were particularly attracted by this initiative because it targets the economically active poor," said Gary Edson, CEO of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, in a telephone interview. "We found that this market had not been served."

Haitian President Michel Martelly has launched his own housing program. Dubbed Kay Pa'm _ Haitian Creole for "my own house" _ it aims to provide mortgages to first-time homeowners who belong to Haiti's middle class, the approximately 10 percent of the population who have steady work.

"We focused on people who have jobs and can pay their debt," said Jean Philippe Vixamar, board chairman for the state-run National Bank of Credit, which created the project.

That still won't include most Haitians. The unemployment rate is estimated at around 70 percent, though many of those have sporadic, low-paying jobs, such as the shoe shiners and street merchants on the broken sidewalks.

Most banks aren't interested in such clients, so when most Haitians need credit, they turn to friends and family. But those networks can rarely provide the kind of loans needed to finance a home.

The Kay Pa'm program has gotten off to a slow start. It was delayed because the president of the government bank's board was killed at his home in June, a slaying that has gone unsolved.

And while it aims to give 12,500 mortgages, so far only about 300 people have expressed interest either by contacting the bank or inquiring online. Only 75 people have actually applied, and the bank has approved just 10 mortgages, Vixamar said.

Vixamar said that is partly because many Haitians don't know the program exists, and many of those who do are taking a wait-and-see attitude, perhaps hoping that free homes will be distributed and they will not need to buy one.

He said the low approval rate is largely because two-thirds of the applicants didn't have proper land titles. Haiti's land registry hasn't been updated for decades, and many of the records that did exist were lost in the earthquake.

Despite the problems, Vellette holds out hope he will finally be able to buy his home, a quiet place with a flower garden for his wife and two children, ages 12 and 2, in the town of Croix-des-Bouquets northwest of Port-au-Prince.

He meets the Kay Pa'm requirement of holding a steady job for at least three years, and he has two sisters in New York who can help him meet the monthly loan payment of $100. The home seller, Shelter-IT LLC of West Haven, Conn., is helping him through the application process. The company is one of dozens that arrived in Haiti after the quake to sell homes.

Vellette learns in December if his loan is approved. Until then, Vellette and his family will continue living with in-laws in downtown Port-au-Prince.

"That's everyone's dream, owning a house," Vellette said. "You're no longer moving around from house to house."