Architects may have Haiti's housing answer

NEW YORK — A team of New York architects is flying to Haiti this week with prototypes of an octagonal vinyl structure they hope will help house some of the 1.5 million Haitians still homeless because of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The first of the aluminum-and-steel structures will be built in Jacmel in southern Haiti under an arrangement with the nonprofit group Rural Haiti Project. Each has 166 square feet of space and is designed to withstand wind, hurricanes and earthquakes.

Haiti's housing shortage is acute, with homeless camps growing instead of shrinking as even more people leave standing homes in search of aid or unable to pay rent. Others are afraid to return to the thousands of homes rated safe to enter, unsure of whether another quake will come.

"There are people who are in these vulnerable conditions every day that can't live in those situations very long without getting sick," said architect Rodney Leon, project manager for the octagonal shelter. "So we wanted to find something that was somewhere between a tent and a permanent house."

Deutsche Bank provided a $50,000 challenge grant for the project, called HaitiSofthouse, and organizers have raised most of the other $50,000, said Gary Hattem, president of the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation. The structures can be mass-produced for less than $3,000 each.