By Pilar Montes

18HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban revolution has a debt with the capital, where residences have severely deteriorated over time; the process of building new houses is slow and the rebuilding of homes in regular or critical condition is sluggish.

In 1959, Cuba’s new government found a capital where many neighborhoods had poor sanitary conditions. These were the first to disappear, and its residents where given decorous homes. The old town and a large part of Centro Habana were in desperate need of repair and suffered from overcrowding.

The urban reform of 1960 lowered rent payments and the Housing Law of 1984 and subsequent reforms offered tenants the option of becoming the owners of the properties they lived in (or to continue under their previous status). It also authorized those who had summer homes to keep these and affected only the owners of apartment buildings.

The neighborhoods of Vedado, Nuevo Vedado and Miramar were the newest and most modern. In general terms, when compared to the rest of the country, Havana was the queen.

When the revolution triumphed, Cuba had a housing deficit of 700,000 homes. Four decades later – and despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of new homes have since been built – this deficit has increased owing to a population increase from 6 to 11.2 million.

In 2013, Cuba’s National Housing Institute reported that, of the country’s more than three million homes, only 61 percent is in good condition, while the rest can be classified as in regular or poor condition.

Some experts consider the percentage of homes in good condition to be an optimistic estimate.

A conservative estimate based on the country’s failure to meet different government plans reveals a housing deficit of about 1.5 million homes. If these were to be built at a pace of 100,000 homes every year, 15 years would still be required to meet the deficit. At the pace of 30,000 homes every year – the one estimated for 2015 – 50 years will be required.

19If we consider natural disasters such as hurricanes, new housing needs and building collapses, then the country may well need a century to overcome its current shortage.

In December of 2011, seeking new mechanisms to alleviate this situation, the government approved the granting of personal subsidies of up to 81,000 Cuban pesos (some 3,300 US dollars) and more (for exceptional cases) for individual building initiatives.

“It’s financing and, even though the money must not be repaid, the parties still need to fulfill the terms of the contract,” Miguel Lima, a member of the work team that developed this proposal, told the website CubaSi.

Even though most of the credit requested has been approved, people still run into delays, obstacles and red tape.

In a recent paper, economist Omar Everleny Perez pointed out that, between 1945 and 1958 (the pre-revolutionary period in which the most homes were built, the houses in good or acceptable condition only met one third of the demand, owing to demographic growth.

The researcher at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy reveals that these housing-related problems have survived to this day.

Will Isn’t Everything

The economist points out that the obstacles include low productivity, a shortage of qualified personnel and the poor quality of construction work and urban design schemes. A poorly designed logistical scheme by the Housing Program has also been detected.

In many cases, those who receive such credit are unable to find the construction materials they need.

The lack of equipment makes all construction work slower, and the lack of clarity as to what construction technologies to use where adds to the problem. The use of a larger volume of materials for every unit built has also led to a rise in the cost of housing.

Last but not least, delays, obstacles and red tape surrounding the legal processes involved make managing these initiatives harder.

Street in Old Havana
Street in Old Havana

In 2011, following what could be described as an important turn, the government authorized Cubans to freely sell and purchase homes and automobiles.

That said, it has maintained the norm establishing that individuals are only entitled to one residence and one summer home (provided they owned one before the revolution).

Many retired persons or people with relatives living abroad have decided to sell their homes and move to a cheaper residence in order to live off the kind of money their pension does not afford them.

The Coming Changes

The Cuban capital, hallmark of the nation, is where the deterioration of homes and streets is most evident. Some foreigners, who visited the city shortly after the triumph of the revolution, say that Havana is arrested in time.

This is because classic buildings next to the Malecon ocean drive have been refurbished and high buildings in Vedado, such as the FOCSA, the Habana Libre, Nacional, Capri and Riviera hotels, have been repaired.

Today, there’s no time to waste. About to receive 3 million or more tourists this year (not counting those who are to stay at private rentals in Old Havana, Vedado and Miramar), there isn’t enough infrastructure to accommodate the coming visitors.

Those in Havana who lost their homes because of building collapses and hurricanes (who have waited years and even decades to be compensated for their losses) have even less time to wait.

That said, it appears that today’s changes – undertaken privately or through the State – are combining to once again make Havana the Caribbean’s number one destination.

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20 thoughts on “Cuba’s Housing Debt with Havana

  • Gerard, don’t think that Havana is a reflection of Cuba as a whole. Within Cuba, yes, some citizens are much more equal than others. Usually the more equal are involved in the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), but there are others. For example for an Olympic gold medalist a very nice house complete with driveway and TWO car garage was constructed as a reward in our city. Imagine, a TWO car garage in a country where the number of cars including all the taxis is 25 for every 1,000 people. (In Canada there are 469 cars per 1,000)
    If you read Gordon Robinson’s contributions or those that Gomezz used to post, you will get some idea of the lives of the privileged. Who you know and who you are related to is a significant factor.
    The chances of every citizen having good housing are nil. In the older communities like Havana, much of the property is literally crumbling, and then concrete block homes are built on top of others to provide a roof over ones head.
    Even if funding is available to construct a new home, the process of application to the municipality is incredibly slow – as I illustrated earlier and even although the funding is available. But new houses are built for the military with rapidity.
    In Cuba, because there is a lack of motivation and lack of recognition of those who apply themselves, nobody cares!
    In our city the PCC has a gas station which only a few party members ever use well over an hour can elapse between customers – but there are four staff. About half a mile down the same road, there is a Cimex gas station, which although owned by GAESA does not have in the minds of the public, the same association with the PCC. So while the four party faithful are twiddling their thumbs, there is a line-up at Cimex. The gas is supplied by the same tankers! That accounts for the Cuban shrug of the shoulders while saying: “Es Cuba.”

  • What condition are government officials houses compared to the everyday people of Havana? Are some citizens more equal than others? Every single citizen desrerves good housing.

  • Yes Gordon, that is a reasonable response. In 1980 the average size of a house in the UK was 860 square feet. Sorry I don’t know the figures for Canada or the US, but both would be bigger. The traditional Canadian bungalow of three bedrooms was about 1200 Square feet.
    My own assessment of “normal” in Cuba would be about 500 – 550 square feet with two bedrooms. It is possible to make a decent two bedroom house in 640 Square feet.
    The big advantage in Cuba is that yards, balconies and roofs add to the living space by exploiting the climate.

  • Circles, in defence of Gordon, I think he was responding to my question (see below) about his definition of a decent house and the percentage of houses in Cuba that meet that definition.

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