A First Step / Dimas Castellanos
A First Step / Dimas Castellanos
Dimas Castellanos, Translator: Unstated
On Thursday November 10 Decree-Law 288 on the legalization of the sale
of homes took effect. Complemented with six ministerial resolutions, the
decree significantly changes the legislation in effect in this area
since the 60?s of last century.
With the new provisions Cubans, formal owners of property, become actual
owners. Now they can not only exchange, but also donate, assign or sell
their home to other Cubans living in Cuba, to those with residence
abroad or to foreigners permanently residing in the country. To make use
of this right requires that the property be registered at the Land
Registry, along with a statement on the legality of the funds involved,
and payment of a tax of 4% per transaction. The price of the property is
as stated by the parties, provided that it is not less than the
discounted value of the same. And the transactions will be conducted in
Cuban pesos through the National Bank.
Now homes owned by Cubans who leave the country permanently will
continue to be confiscated but the State will transfer the property to
the co-owners or family members up to the fourth degree of
consanguinity, for free. That is spouses, children, parents,
grandparents, siblings, nephews, uncles and cousins, or persons who,
with the owner's consent, have resided for five or more years in the
An assessment of the scope of the new Decree-Law requires that we look
at its background.
For years, the population growth, the aging of the housing stock, its
deterioration because of lack of maintenance, increasing collapses of
existing buildings and the slow pace of construction, formed a tricky
situation. The Cuban model is more useful for distribution than
productions, and involved itself in resolving the problems while
circumventing the participation of citizens.
To that end a "battle for housing" began which ended in complete
failure. From 1960 to 1970 they tried to produce 32,000 apartments a
year, but the average did not exceed 11,000. From 1970 to 1980 there was
a plan for 38,000, but they barely reached 17,000. In the decade of
1980s, the plan amounted to 100,000 homes a year, but the average did
not exceed 40,000. Only in the 1990s, did it surpass 40,000, but then it
declined. In September 2005, the Secretary of the Executive Committee of
the Council of Ministers announced another plan of 100,000 new homes per
year, which also failed.
When the housing shortage created a frenzy of occupations and illegal
construction, the government turned the focus from plans for
construction to controlling the widespread disorder. The Law No.
48-Housing Act, enacted in December 1984, authorized the transfer of
ownership to onerous "usufruct" and legitimate occupants, and allowed
the legalization of homes that had been built outside the law. This
measure gave formal ownership to about 750 thousand families, but its
scope was limited to legalizing existing arrangements and putting an end
to the lack of control. Illegalities, however, continued their march.
Four years later, in December 1988, a new Housing Act was promulgated.
In one of its paragraphs it made that the personal property of the house
was understood as the right of enjoyment thereof by the owner and his
family, but could not become a mechanism of enrichment or exploitation.
That is, the owners were forbidden to sell their property. This law
could not prevent black market sales and construction.
In July 2000 Decree-Law 211 was issued authorizing physical inspections
of buildings, requiring institutional approval for housing swaps, and
giving state officials the right to determine the legitimacy of the
property, undermining the rights recognized in the General Law 1988. In
the same direction, in February 2001, new Decree-Law was adopted that
effectively eliminated the sale between private parties and awarded and
Municipal Housing Authorities the right of confiscation. So the box was
The recent provision recognizing the right of the owner and removing the
prior authorization of the Housing Authorities, is a recognition of the
absurdity of the above laws. Its limitation is that it is directed to
the sphere of circulation: property can change hands, but one cannot
build new homes. If one of the objectives of the recent legislation is
"to contribute to solving the housing problem," then the right to
property must be complemented by measures aimed at building and repair.
According to official figures in 2010 there was a national deficit of
about 600,000 homes, more than half of the existing homes were in poor
condition, and 85% were in need of repair. However, the reality is that
the figures are higher.
Between 2001 and 2005 four hurricanes: Michelle (2001), Charley and Ivan
(2004) and Dennis (2005) caused severe damage to housing. Then, in 2008,
about half a million homes were damaged or completely demolished by the
atmospheric phenomena of Fay, Hannah, Gustav and Ike. Given the failures
of the construction plans, population growth and constant collapse of
existing buildings, a conservative estimate shows a deficit of about one
million homes in a population of more than 11 million. As the current
population growth demands an annual 50,000 new houses, it would take
several decades building a 100,000 homes a year to solve the critical
The solution of the problem demands that citizens participate in
parallel with the State, along with the creation of small and medium
enterprises — private or cooperatives — for construction materials,
repair, sale of materials, transport and alternative financing. It also
requires multidisciplinary studies. In short, the joint participation of
State and Society.
In this problem, Decree-Law 288 is only the first step. Important
because it will generate a change in attitude among Cubans and because
it is recognition, so far denied, of the right of ownership. Of course,
this is only a first step.
Translated by Unstated
November 15 2011
Tags: housing, illegal, transport