HAVANA ( Associated Press) – The room is about 15 square meters and is home to Olga Lydia Lahera, her daughter Yalili and her two granddaughters. A shelf full of utensils and a rare sofa are barely enough for a bed. A cloth veil separates a small space that women use to wash themselves. There is no bathroom.
Meter further, on Gloria Street in Old Havana’s Talapeidra neighborhood, Annette Ayala and her brother Wilmedes live on the second floor of another old building, with cracks in the walls and ceilings so large that air leaks through them. Light and water.
The first hurricane of the 2022 hurricane season, in mid-June, made dozens of landfalls in the Cuban capital. At least a couple of them were total and the rest of the houses are in dilapidated condition, with the rain breaking to pieces of roofs, balconies or façades, leaving behind tons of rubble and sowing worry and uncertainty among its residents.
The effect brought to mind one of the main social problems in Cuba, and especially in Havana: the apparent lack of maintenance of buildings and the failure to comply with plans for the construction of new homes, sometimes to cover those are not enough that they fall or deteriorate.
“When it rains here, everything gets wet, the furniture, the fridge, we have nowhere to run things,” Ayala told the Associated Press. of moisture..
“It’s a big problem because tomorrow a wind will catch us and it (the roof) will fall on us and two more of us will die,” said Ayala, 36, who was paralyzed after a brain tumor operation.
He and his brother, a 39-year-old primary school physical education teacher, did all kinds of paperwork so that authorities could allow them to legally own the place, but the building license—compulsory in Cuba—was not given to them.
An official count indicated that there were 3.9 million homes on the island at the end of 2020, of which about 40% were in reasonable and poor condition. 76% were in urban locations – which were the worst-case scenarios – and the deficit was around 862,000 units.
“When it rains, the walls here pick up the current (they get electrified) … they are bad, but I don’t know to what extent it can fall, they are all cracks, the building, the structure very old Lahera, 65, told the Associated Press that she was a state employee until she asked for sick leave. In their room, they make ends meet with the salary that the Cuban state gives their daughter for social security to care for her and the girls.
For families like the Lahera, the solution would be to get a smaller house or apartment, but construction figures show a dramatic decline despite the fact that officials launched a national program in 2018 to somewhat correct the situation and President Miguel Diaz-Canel himself acknowledged the difficulties.
In 2019, 44,000 homes were completed, the number fell to 32,000 the following year, and around 18,000 in 2021. There are no official figures for the current year.
For decades, the island was characterized by being almost the only responsible state for residential construction and the real estate market was not legally permitted, that is, people owned their homes but could not sell them, which led to a certain Negligence encouraged.
To date, it is possible to have only one household registered per person in the city and only one house for rest in the countryside.
In 2011, President Ral Castro authorized the offering and acquisition of private homes as a way of re-energizing the economy, giving more scope to private initiatives. Thousands of people bought homes or invested in fixing them, which suddenly increased in value.
With an increase in tourism in the middle of that decade and the approach of the United States, a gentrification phenomenon occurred in specific areas such as Old Havana in the capital, which improved the conditions of the buildings that were purchased. Or converted into a hostel. The state itself developed a significant program of rehabilitation of the historic center that saved a good part of the ancestral fund from the residents without stripping them of their homes.
But historical habitat losses, the permanent path of cyclones, the salinity of the ocean and the lack of building materials—or their exorbitant price in relation to the average salary on the island—were also felt throughout the years. A phenomenon that was exacerbated by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and the tightening of US sanctions during the Donald Trump administration, which dramatically affected the Caribbean nation.
In the capital, areas such as Vedado, Miramar or a few blocks of the historic center are kept in good condition, but neighborhoods such as Centro Habana, El Cerro or Arroyo Naranjo have much weaker areas.
Critics of the government have accused officials and the armed forces business sector of building five-star hotels in the capital during the pandemic – which would take time to generate profit, rather than invest in social housing.
“In a very strong dynamic in the Caribbean, we continue to grow and the hotels that have been built are the same as what we had in the plan,” Tourism Minister Juan Carlos García said. These buildings amidst the stressful situation of scarcity and housing shortage.
Now this season’s first rain has exposed the fragility of the residential sector. Even without a cyclone, about 750 homes were damaged in western Cuba. Of these, 148 suffered landslides in the capital, most of which were partial.
“You just have to walk through town to see the degradation of Havana’s built foundations,” architect Orlando Inclan regretfully told the Associated Press, which with a team of professionals has won a project competition for social housing buildings with alternative materials and recycled. “The issue is sensitive as well as worrisome.”
Inklan and many allies want the government to allow them both to exercise their businesses privately—not yet authorized—as well as to participate in a movement to clean up spaces and homes for the population on the island. For.
“It is time to diversify this housing policy. The actors must be diversified, the content must be diversified, the ways of understanding the habitat must be varied. There is no need to be a housing builder or always use the same materials”, Inklan said. “The only way to find a solution to this is through creative thinking.”
Andrea Rodriguez is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP