Patrick: Housing Haitians in state still a work in progress

In an interview with the Boston Haitian Reporter a day before he was sworn into his second term, Gov. Deval Patrick reiterated his campaign pledge to help come up with a comprehensive dwelling strategy for Haitians displaced by last January’s earthquake. Patrick also discussed the state’s involvement in relief efforts and whether he plans to visit Haiti.

Patrick told the Reporter he is charging his undersecretary of housing, Tina Brooks, with the task of coming up with a housing strategy. Brooks will also be charged with engaging with the Haitian community on the strategy.

“Government can’t do it alone,” he said. “We’re going to have to partner, and partner creatively with folks on the ground, in community groups and who are individual neighborhood leaders.”

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Haitians displaced by the earthquake are temporarily housed in hotels, motels, and homeless shelters across the commonwealth, with more staying with relatives.

Asked about the state’s involvement in Haiti recovery efforts, Patrick said individual Bay State citizens and organizations have a better handle on that because the depth of the Haitian community in Massachusetts.

“But as a government, I think our involvement is and probably needs to be more limited to helping here,” he said.

Patrick said he was proud of the efforts of his Office of Refugees and Immigrants in responding to the earthquake, and the “large ways and small” that state government had helped in coordinating medical evacuees and helping employees with time off in order to help family members.

Patrick said his priorities for the second term align with the priorities of Haitian Americans, including affordable health care and closing the achievement gap among students.

“Haitian Americans are very entrepreneurial, they care about and are very involved in small businesses and they have the same concerns other small businesses do about the cost of health care and access to capital, commitment to education in the community,” he said.

In media interviews in the days leading up to his inauguration, Patrick noted that he would be doing some traveling, both to promote Massachusetts and the release of his memoirs. Asked if he had planned to come to Haiti, Patrick said, “I’d love to go. I’ve never been. And I have been invited. But my plans are very fluid at this point. We have ambitions about places where we want to go to try to recruit jobs and investments and talent, but we don’t have a specific agenda yet.”

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin visited in December, calling for more aid for the country. Other political figures have also visited the country in the last year, including First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.