September 1, 2011
The New Santo Community in Leogane: Planning by the People; Building with a President — Habitat for Humanity and Architecture for Humanity


Leogane community members planning Santo neighborhood layout in Haiti. Photo credit: Habitat / Architecture for Humanity


In an open-air pavilion on land donated by the municipality of Leogane, Haitian parents and children moved miniature cardboard houses and paper trees to mock-up the design for a new model community funded by donors to Habitat for Humanity and Architecture for Humanity and to be built by their own hands.  Modifying the architecture of homes and placement of community services — wells, latrines, community gardens and playgrounds — family members charted the community of 500 core homes that will be erected via a high-profile construction event in November. 


Lead carpenters will be none other than President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter, life-long supporters of Habitat for Humanity’s “sweat equity” approach to affordable housing.  While the Carters have been volunteer carpenters on Habitat projects in the US and around the world for years, the Leogane project will be the first to which they have committed to working for two consecutive years.  The project will be funded in part by other volunteers who will pay generously for the privilege of working alongside these exemplary servant leaders and the future Haitian homeowners.

President Jimmy Carter on Habitat for Humanity homebuilding site

A volunteer with the two collaborating organizations vividly chronicled the community’s planning meeting in July.


“We bounced along the unpaved road, bumping from pothole to pothole.  Six months ago, the site of the new Santo community was a green, open field, but make-shift tents now dot the landscape:  word has spread that a housing development is being planned, and these displaced families are desperate for a place to call their own…


“Family members selected for the first new homes have already gathered… Staff greet each other and the participants, who sit on wooden benches that have been placed around the perimeter of the meeting place… The participants sit patiently, but there is an air of expectation, as the curious gather around the facilitators setting up for the meeting.


“The first activity is to visit the replica of the core house that has just been constructed.  The Carter Work Project will construct the first 100 core homes with these families in November.  When the community is completed, it will be home to 500 families, but the services and facilities being planned will benefit the neighboring communities and provide jobs for as many as 200 people. 


“We follow the path through over-grown weeds and various small gardens that are being cultivated by the squatters.  The core house is small, only 20 square meters, but these future homeowners accept that part of the design.  They have been told that it is a ‘starter house’ that can be added to later when they have the resources.  The group consensus, however, is that there are two problems: 1) the porch is too small and 2) they don’t like the way the space is partitioned inside the house.  Habitat plans to partition the space into three rooms so that there are separate sleeping quarters for adults and children, boys and girls.  But to the families, the result doesn’t maximize the available space.


“When the group returns to the pavilion, Architecture for Humanity (AFH) has set up tables in front of the benches.  Circled around each table are about 10 people, a healthy mix of men and women, young and old…. First, the small groups are asked to work together to plan an individual plot.  A paper and cardboard three-dimensional model represents the space that each family will own.  Moveable parts include a model house, the porch, and an addition that is the same size as the core house, the latrine, cooking space, a garden, trees and fencing.    Many use the section of cardboard intended to represent the garden plot as a way of extending the size of the porch – an inventive way to make improvements in the house design.


“Each group experiments, looking for the best arrangement.  The results are all a little different but also have similarities.  Most position the house at the front of the plot with the latrine to the back and cooking area and the garden to the back or side of the house.  At least one tree shades the cooking area.  The other trees are near the front of the house to shade the ‘enlarged’ porch… Many have difficulty working within the space provided.  They instinctively want more space between the house plots, but the facilitators point out that more space between houses also means that fewer families will have homes. 


“Two previous meetings have defined aspects of the public spaces and how they will be maintained:  A committee is to be responsible for the upkeep of the parks and playgrounds.  The community has stressed the importance of agricultural space, both for individual and community gardens.  There is already a Planters Association that can oversee the community gardens.  Even though there is space allocated for a public market, some families will also want to operate businesses from their homes…”


Surely this thorough process is costly and not easily replicable.  In the end each Habitat home will have cost $20,000 including community mapping and site planning, and completion of infrastructure including roads, community space, water and sanitation access.   The Santo Project will, however, model an ideal sustainable community — not just sustainable economically — but sustainable because, unlike so many NGO-led projects in Haiti, each resident will have been a stakeholder in the building process from the bottom up.


To see a video of the Santo Community Planning Project see:


For more about the Carter Work Project in Leogane see:


Habitat for Humanity’s 27-year commitment to Haiti has included new home construction, progressive building, home repairs and improvements as well as construction skill training, disaster reduction and financial literacy.  For more on Habitat’s commitment to Haiti see:


For photos and an account of Architecture for Humanity’s Santo community mapping project see: