According to this article the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars and yet only built six houses in Haiti while claiming to have housed 130,000 residents.

In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor area, which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the project — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.

Today, not one home has been built in Campeche.


The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

All of the Red Cross claims are on their own site:

An immediate priority for Haitians was the construction of shelters for people then living under tarps and tents, so the American Red Cross has helped 132,000 Haitians to live in safer conditions—ranging from providing temporary homes and rental subsidies to repaired and new homes.

So, has the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars for Haiti and built only six houses?

  • An element to the this question is the corrupt Haitian authorities which is component to why new building are needed in the first place whereas other countries suffering the earthquake didn't suffer as much structural damage. So its Red Cross with Haitian authorities- did they build only six houses. Jun 7, 2015 at 2:50

3 Answers 3


The statement of the claim in the question is extremely misleading, and the article confuses multiple projects. However, the Red Cross housing projects are receiving scrutiny from investigative news organizations

TLDR: The article has accidentally or deliberately confused the earthquake relief project with the much smaller neighbourhood renewal project, and attacked them both for not doing things they weren't intended to do. The Red Cross did much more in Haiti than build six houses, but it may not have been as much as could be expected

Let's focus solely on the specific claim in the question, that "all the Red Cross did with half a billion dollars was build six houses". Other parts of the article raise some possibly valid concerns about the Red Cross effort in Haiti, which have been noted by other reports, and are to some extent shared by many of the organizations operating in Haiti, but that particular accusation is not one of them.

Specifically one of the things the article is doing is confusing two entirely different Red Cross programmes - the earthquake relief programme and the LAMIKA project. The $500 million figure they quote is all about disaster relief. It is probable that the reference to 130,000 promised homes is also a reference to the earthquake relief work, although I haven't been able to track that down.

In the article, one of the key points is:

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.

There is a link to a press interview with Gail McGovern, supposedly backing this statement up. The interview does not contain the quote, nor any similar statement. We have to dig around to find out whether there were indeed such plans. It turns out that at a press conference in 2011 McGovern did in fact announce plans for "a hundred million dollar program to provide permanent housing in Haiti". Several schemes seem to be included in these plans, one of which was the LAMIKA project, which does have the goal of "neighbourhood renewal", and is referred to in the article. However, to be completely clear, it isn't directly funded by the earthquake relief budget and doesn't have a $500m budget. Lamika appears to have a budget of around $9.5m.

Regarding what the Red Cross has actually done, the article says the following:

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

Note the clever insertion of the word 'permanent' in the refutation, but not in the claim. In other words the Red Cross never claimed they had built permanent homes, but the article is taking them to task for not doing so. In fact the Red Cross has never listed 'permanent housing' in its priorities for the $500m relief fund. The earthquake relief fund's focus (or one of them) is on temporary housing.

The Gail McGovern interview contains a statement of the Red Cross priorities for earthquake relief in Haiti:

McGovern oversaw a six-pronged strategy in rebuilding Haiti that encompassed improving food, water and sanitation; building emergency shelters; jump-starting livelihoods through jobs and grants; strengthening health services and establishing future disaster preparedness.

There is also a summary of the Red Cross' actions in Haiti:

In Haiti, the Red Cross gave $30 million to the United Nations food program; spent $14 million on readymade meals, clean water and latrines; provided more than one third of the country's tarps; gave more than 1 million vaccinations; provided loans and cash grants to catalyze business development; and trained hundreds of thousands on how to prepare for the next potential disaster.

Note the mention of 'emergency shelters', and of 'tarps', which are key components of temporary housing.

Where the confusions starts is that the article also makes reference to "Lamika", speaking as though it were part of the $500m earthquake relief work. However Lamika is in an entirely separate project from the Earthquake Relief work. It is about renewing the Campeche neighbourhood near Port Au Prince. Lamika does not have a $500m budget but a $9.5m budget.

It is not clear what happened to the Red Cross plans to provide permanent housing. Current statements of the LAMIKA priorities say that it is specifically about building neighbourhood infrastructure i.e. the things that go around the houses. Priorities in the Lamika project include roads, schools, water and sanitation, public spaces, and "Reinforce or expand more than 300 houses" (i.e. repair existing houses, not build new ones) However reputable news organizations such as NPR are also asking questions about why the permanent housing plans have come to nothing, and about what has happened to the earthquake relief money.

  • 17
    "The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six." Not only are they conflating "homes" with "permanent homes", as you point out, but they're also potentially conflating "build" with "provide". Jun 3, 2015 at 21:07
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    I think most people reading this are more concerned with "Should I be upset at Red Cross for wasting my donated cash," rather than about the truth of this particular hyperbole. You mentioned "Other parts of the article raise some very valid concerns [..] which have been noted by other reports" - perhaps you could link to those other reports? Jun 3, 2015 at 22:18
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft - This question is about the 'six homes' thing. If you want an overall summary of the Red Cross' efforts vs expected results compared to similar efforts by themselves or other organizations in the past, that sounds like a new question.
    – user2754
    Jun 3, 2015 at 22:21
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft I don't know whether those concerns are actually true, and I really don't want to fact-check the entire article. Plus "is this charity wasting my money" is a huge opinion-based mess. Jun 3, 2015 at 23:55
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    The logical outcome of building permanent homes is simply silly anyway. I can imagine 10,000 people getting homes with that money and going "Man, I wish we had a sewer, water, and fuel infrastructure for these homes to connect to..." while the other 120,000 people sleep in their own excrement. That assumes $50k a house. (In reality you'd get more people per house, but still, the point is there... infrastructure matters!)
    – corsiKa
    Jun 4, 2015 at 8:24

While building permanent housing wasn't the only planned use of money by the Red Cross, the Red Cross promised to spend $100 million to provide tens of thousands of people with permanent housing and infrastructure, which did not happen. The claim by @DJClayworth that "the Red Cross has never listed 'permanent housing' in its priorities" is incorrect. (I don't have the rep to comment above).

On Jan. 12, 2011, Gail McGovern (Red Cross President) said, on the topic of Haiti relief, that "these projects are part of the $100 million we plan to invest to provide tens of thousands of people with permanent homes ... where we develop brand-new communities ... including water and sanitation."

This quote is also used by NPR in their coverage of the story.

As DJClayworth points out, the $500 million raised was used for projects other than building permanent houses. However, the sentiment of the headline is accurate: one-fifth of the half-billion was intended to provide permanent housing to tens of thousands, but ended up only providing this for a few people.

  • 5
    My immediate question is "Did they spent $100 million, and fail? Or did they reassign that money to more pressing needs?"
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 4, 2015 at 15:10
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    When I watched the entire clip the impression I got was that they were investing 15 million, as one part of a larger 100 million from the overall fund, towards the goal of getting permanent housing developed along with roads, sanitation, infrastructure, etc. In other words, the ultimate goal is "permanent homes" but the investment clearly won't cover even a portion of that. This is what they are investing into the IDB towards this goal - and it was only 15 million out of the 100 million fund they have for such projects.
    – Adam Davis
    Jun 4, 2015 at 15:43
  • Even for "just" 15 million, 6 houses seems too little.
    – algiogia
    Jun 5, 2015 at 8:18
  • Here's a (very straightforward) question. Is it the case that the Red Cross has built six [exactly] houses? A very simple question. By all means - they may be about to build 500,000 more houses, they may be special houses, they may be demos .. or whatever. But from all the confusion on this page, I simply don't know, step one, in fact has the Red Cross built [exactly] six houses?* Thanks if anyone knows.
    – Fattie
    Jun 5, 2015 at 16:12
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    The $100m is not part of the $500m - there are two separate funds, one for earthquake relief and one for neighbourhood renewal. There was a plan in 2011 to spend $100m on 'providing people with permanent houses' but by 2015 the goals for that same fund did not include building of houses. Possibly the original goal was to provide neighbourhood infrastructure on the assumption that this would result in houses being built, or it is possible that the goals of the project changed in four years. Nov 11, 2015 at 20:22

Here is the explanation given by David Meltzer, Chief International Officer of the American Red Cross. To summarize:

  • The premise that the Red Cross spent half a billion dollars is true: the figure given in the article is actually $488 million. Close enough.
  • The headline for the Pro Publica article that you cited, "half a billion dollars and built six houses", would be technically true, but sensationalistic and out of context. They did raise $488 million, and they did build six houses.
  • However, the way you misquoted the article when you posted this question, "half a billion dollars to build six houses", is false. Of the $488 million, only $173 million were spent on shelter. The remaining $315 million were spent on emergency relief, health, water, sanitation, "livelihoods", disaster preparedness, and cholera prevention.

One might then go on to ask about spending $173 million on six houses.

Did the American Red Cross only build “6” new permanent homes? Yes, these were part of a pilot project outside of Port-au-Prince. As the project progressed, we learned a number of lessons that helped us revise our long-term shelter plans. The solutions we decided on ultimately helped more people than can be served through new construction efforts and could be implemented faster, helping people living in camps get back into safer homes and conditions sooner.

Did we plan to build more new homes? Yes, plans for three different communities of new homes funded by the American Red Cross were developed, of which two were outside of Port-au-Prince. In all three cases, there were competing claims of land ownership and clear land title couldn’t be established. We also learned that new housing communities built outside Port-au-Prince often remained unoccupied because people strongly preferred to move back into the neighborhood they lived in before the quake - near their jobs, schools and family.

The article goes on to say:

Housing a relatively small number of people in newly constructed homes that unfortunately could not be quickly built given the uncertainty of clear land title was inconsistent with our mission to quickly and effectively alleviate suffering. In response to these challenges, the American Red Cross chose to focus its housing work on alternatives that offered many more people the opportunity to move into safe and improved housing. We stand by that decision.

The alternative plans included partnering with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, subsidizing rental housing, and self-help programs.

That said, Pro Publica remains unsatisfied with the Red Cross's accounting, saying that they were unable to get a breakdown by project. There is no detailed explanation given for how the $173 million allocated for shelters was spent.

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