14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 July 2018 — Trading, donating, buying and repairing dwellings in tourist areas will be more complicated from now on with the advent of new regulations. After July 24 an authorization from the Municipal Housing Directorate or the Physical Planning Institute will be required, in addition to the requisites in force in the rest of the country.
Since, at the end of 2011, the government of Raul Castro authorized the sale of homes after decades of prohibition, a dynamic real estate market was unleashed in a country with 3,700,000 homes, some 86% of them owned individually.
Less than two years after the ban on these transactions was lifted, some 80,000 sales and gifts were carried out, according to data offered then by Aniuska Puente Fontanella, specialist with the Directorate of the Commercial Property Registry and the Heritage of the Ministry of Justice.
In recent years authorities have tried to control the phenomenon with the creation of taxes and, more recently, with new regulations for the better areas demanded by the tourist rental businesses and private restaurants. The new measures pose an additional obstacle to the development of the private sector.
Among the outstanding tourist zones are the Varadero peninsula, the most famous Cuban resort, and also the coast of Havana of the East, especially the beach areas of that township which are visited by many vacationing foreigners and nationals each year.
From now on, according to the latest resolution, when a resident from those areas wants to trade, donate, sell or buy a property, he will have to seek an authorization from the Municipal Housing Directorate, unlike in other areas where it is only necessary to formalize the process before a notary.
When it comes to repairing or remodeling a dwelling, the license will be processed by the Municipal Directorate of Physical Planning, a supra-entity created by the government in order to bring order to the urban space and directed by General Samuel Rodiles Planas, a hard-line military officer.
After complying with those procedures, the owner of a house in these areas will have to await a confirmation by the Tourism territorial delegation, which will take into account “the balance” of the resident population in each area in order to keep it from increasing and affecting state activity in that sector.
The new requirement has alerted owners of hostels, restaurants and architecturally valuable houses, who now fear the paralysis or freezing of repairs and projects managed privately in these areas.
The Official Gazette also warns that trades in these areas must not contribute to a population increase or create new owners. The text prohibits gifts and sales from affecting the tourist development programs.
The construction of new buildings will also be limited in a way that “rigorously fits” the Territorial Ordinance Plan and the urban regulations of those areas. This decision has fallen like a bucket of cold water on those who have bought land in tourist areas in order to later build a house.
In the case of Old Havana and Central Havana, capital municipalities that are associated with the City Historian’s Office, there exist other specific ordinances that are even more restrictive.
“The rooms that remain unoccupied and available in favor of the State” in those areas “will be delivered directly to the Office of the City of Havana Historian” who will dispose of them “in accord with the established regulations.”
The objective, according to the Official Gazette, will be “relocation and better housing conditions for the resident population” in the area as well as “the restoration and conservation of heritage.” It says another purpose of the new law is to promote “tourist development” and “the provision of social services to the population.”
One of the measures that is causing more controversy is the prohibition on dividing rooms or bedrooms, whether they are “situated in bunkhouses or tenement blocks, except in basic cases of social interest and previous authorization by the Historian’s Office.”
The practice of dividing spaces, whether vertically or horizontally (the well-known barbacoas*), has been used for decades to relieve housing problems in Cuba. At the end of 2016 there was a deficit of more than 880,000 houses on the Island, and last year only 21,827 new dwellings were built, according to information from the National Office of Statistics.
Translated by Mary Lou Keel
*Translator’s note: “Barbacoa” (barbecue) is an unlikely term for a platform built in high-ceilinged room to add another “floor.” Search on term in the linked report by the late architect Mario Coyula to find out more; the first reference is on page 7 and a drawing of a ’barbacoa’ is on page 10.
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