Apartment Searching and Moving in Havana

By Diana Ferreiro  (Progreso Semanal) 

Moving in Havana. Photo: Progreso Semanal.

HAVANA TIMES – In this city, a more or less furnished apartment, within the limits of what we call “decent areas” (which are just the municipalities “closest” to the city center), costs you at least 60 CUC (=USD) per month. If we’re being optimistic, of course. And, if you’re thinking about an interior 3-bedroom apartment in a peripheral neighborhood like Marianao.

Marianao has good transport links, it isn’t the end of the world really. You learn to find advantages in every place you go to. You’d like to live in Vedado, in the heart of the city, and instead you find yourself moving your scarce belongings (for the 9th time in 4 years) to 39th and 106 Streets in two trips, because the car you managed to get a hold of this time is small, and it’s a favor at the end of the day.

Moving is a stressful process, in any situation. You try and figure out how much space your belongings will take up, that have been growing with each move because you bought a rice cooker, 15 books that you still haven’t had time to read, a lamp so that you can read them when you finally have the time, bags and shoes, or your mother has sent you the washing machine she no longer uses so you don’t have to spend all weekend washing by hand.

Then, you have to make sure that this volume of space corresponds to the size of the suitcases that your friends have given you and the cardboard boxes that you’ve picked up outside some shopping center. Boxes of liquid detergent, or rum bottles, or electrical appliances. Empty and disassembled boxes that sometimes need to be reinforced with tape and rope.

Wrapping up anything fragile in newspaper (for some stupid reason, as if it were magic shatter-proof paper); trying to fit everything in like a game of tetris: glasses, plates and decorations (why do people go to the effort of decorating such a temporary space like a rental apartment?).

Cds, make up, spices, T-shirts, handkerchiefs, medicines; labeling the boxes with permanent marker: “fragile”, “bedroom”, “kitchen”, “books”’ thinking the whole time: “it’s not all going to fit”; lighting up a cigarette and thinking: “if I put the bathroom stuff in the suitcase of clothes, I can use this box for X”; putting out the cigarette and confirming that the van will come at 10 on the dot; feeling that everything might work out in the end. That maybe this will be the last time you move.

But, it never is in this city.

Rents in Havana are through the roof for a Cuban. On Revolico, for example, a rental ad for under 100 CUC isn’t up for longer than an hour before someone calls and takes it, sometimes even in minutes. Looking on any odd day, Tuesday April 2, 2019, for example, you can see that monthly rents for a place range from 80-600 CUC, up to 20 times or more than the average income in this city.

The country’s housing deficit currently stands at 929,695 properties, it has been calculated recently. 527,575 homes would need to be built and another 402,120 would need to be renovated. The provinces most affected by this deficit are Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba (surprise, surprise…).

There is something else that cripples the matter: if there aren’t enough homes for the families that already exist, what can the people who long for independence, to create new relationships, or to look for professional opportunities in the capital, hope for?

Almost every young person in Havana that lives in a rented place does so in apartments where the owners don’t have licenses to rent. Which means there isn’t a legal document that protects them in this house. This means that the day they least expect it, the rentee can be woken up with the news that they have just a few days to get up and out. To put their boxes back together again (if they were wary enough to keep them under their bed) and to get the wheels of moving again in motion. A process stymied quite easily when you don’t have the resources to find a solution. That is to say: money.

How much does it cost to move in Havana? I wouldn’t be able to give you an exact figure, but it can sometimes cost more than the next month’s rent. On Revolico, you can also find various ads from “moving companies with over 20 years of experience”, which includes assistance from a “specialized brigade”. There is no price mentioned.

You call them and negotiate: I don’t have any heavy furniture; a bed yes, but not a fridge-freezer; some boxes with books; no, no, I don’t have any armchairs, or shelves, or tables; from Marianao to Central Havana; on Saturday; no, my friends will help me; I don’t need your “brigade”. Transport can be the hardest thing to find, after the new rental, of course.

In September 2013, I moved for a short while to an apartment on Rabi Street, between Santa Emilia and Zapote Streets, in the Diez de Octubre neighborhood, with two of my friends. The three of us were staying in a 1-bed apartment. That afternoon, I was carrying a small suitcase and a backpack. I got there on a public bus, and I stayed for two months. I had graduated in Journalism, in June the same year. And from then until now, I have moved 11 times. And no, I have never worked out how much “I’ve invested”. It’s better to not know some figures. I would, however, get to know the neighborhoods of Playa, Cerro, Santos Suarez, Vedado and Nuevo Vedado, Centro Habana and Marianao.

Sometimes, Havana is a hostile city. Even though its services aren’t necessarily better here, they are becoming increasingly expensive. Transport at the top of the list.

It’s been years that I haven’t been able to move using public transport. Over the years, I have bought pieces of furniture and things that I needed at every apartment I rented for at least six months. I have gone from carrying my things in the boot of an old ‘50s Chevrolet to renting out a van which my friends also take with me: my specialist brigade.

Moving is also an inventory check of some sorts. Of what you give up because it is no longer necessary; of all the laughs, lessons learned and tears in those four walls. Of the love made and unmade on the bathroom floor; of the shortcuts and the “there is always bread there” or “there you pay electricity” or “Cerro and Boyeros, driver?”.

Accommodating your life to a new space is a very individual act, in spite of the help you receive. For however long it lasts.