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"After the earthquake, the price of housing practically doubled," says Medjine Jasmin, an assistant at real estate agency Groupe Immobilier D’Haïti in Pétion-Ville. Many of the company’s clients are organizations from abroad. Because the majority of relief assistance contracts received by NGOs and foreign contractors lasted only six to 18 months, Jasmin says that many foreign organizations packed up and headed home or at least drew back operations once contracts terminated. A lot of them left the country, and a gap in the economy.
"NGOs pay very well," says Jasmin. "There were many ways to make money. Now, it’s more difficult."
The aid economy clearly is a boon for property owners and locals fortunate enough to be employed by foreign organizations. But it puts upward pressure on real estate prices, and even for locals who get jobs, it may not be a long-term path to the working-class, particularly for low-skilled workers like drivers and security guards.
It may be impossible to tell just how much the aid economy affects the local economy until aid flows diminish over the next five to 10 years, but the aid economy in Haiti may be less temporary than the international community lets on, or than in war zones like Afghanistan. Here, like the 520,000 Haitians still living in ostensibly temporary tent camps around Port-au-Prince, it’s not apparent that the international NGOs, branches of foreign governments, and aid contractors will ever leave.
Tate Watkins is a freelance writer based in Port-au-Prince and a one-time Reason intern.