During January 2018, I travelled to Léogâne, Haiti, with a break research grant through the Kellogg International Scholars Program. This trip was an extension of the work I did throughout the fall semester of 2017 with Engineering2Empower (E2E) alongside Notre Dame senior, Christianos Burlotos. This program, led by Dr. Tracy Kijewski-Correa and Dr. Alexandros Taflanidis, is focused on developing a sustainable solution to the housing crisis in Haiti. In keeping with the program’s practice of utilizing human-centered design, my previous research focused on analyzing methods of housing development and housing finance as well as similar topics such as microfinance and alternative credit scoring in the developing world. This trip gave me the opportunity to test the ideas I had from my research and gain valuable insights relevant to our project in Haiti.
During the first three full days, I conducted conversational interviews through a translator set up by the E2E leaders throughout Léogâne. I interviewed landowners who had not yet developed their land, managers of credit unions, people who give out informal loans in their community, and individuals who regularly borrow money from different sources. These interviews took place at or near the individuals’ homes in Léogâne. They were conducted with a recording device (when permission was granted) and later transcribed. On the final day, I assisted the rest of the E2E team with translating survey questions for the program’s sanitation project and brainstorming possible directions to go with our micro-development project.
In the landowner interviews, I started by asking the individuals about their current usage and plans for their land. Then, after presenting them with the possibility of building houses on their land, I asked about how they would be willing to finance the houses, how they would choose who lives in the houses, and how they would ensure the individuals paid on time. These interviews left me with a better understanding of landowners’ willingness to develop on their land as well as what they would desire when doing so.
In the credit union interviews, I asked questions about the corporations’ products and business practices. I learned about interest rates, group savings accounts, methods of enforcing repayment, and plans to begin mortgage lending. Similarly, I learned from individuals who run more informal lending practices on how they vet customers and take precautions to ensure repayment. Among the findings, I discovered that even the people who sporadically lend money to friends still sign and cosign papers before lending money. Additionally, I learned that some of the reasons why individuals choose to pay larger interest rates to informal lenders are that they are distrustful of the credit unions or are not willing to go through their extensive process to receive a loan.
When interviewing individuals who have received loans, I focused on understanding why people take out loans and why they feel confident in their ability to pay back the loans. Additionally, I asked these individuals about their thoughts on credit cards and renting vs. owning houses. Through these conversations, I gained many stories and opinions to help me understand the process of lending in Haiti from the eyes of the consumer.
The insights gained on this trip will be beneficial as the E2E team continues working towards a housing delivery and finance model. This increased understanding of the stakeholders involved in the process will prove valuable in the development of sustainable solutions to the Haitian housing crisis.