14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 November 2023 — This Sunday morning, the damage caused by the partial collapse that affected the property at number 103 Cuba Street, between Tacón and Tejadillo, in Old Havana, was visible to all. Yellow and black tape closed off the block where the tenement building fell in without any loss of human life.
The quarters, with two floors and a large central patio, are inhabited by dozens of families who sought shelter outside the building due to fear of other possible collapses. In the area, visibly guarded by uniformed and plainclothes police, the dust and debris from the collapse mixed with the mud caused by the rains of recent days.
“When we saw that it was raining and raining, we feared the worst because when four drops fall in this city, everyone knows what happens,” said resident of the block where the partial collapse of the right wing of the building occurred, speaking to 14ymedio. “Although the side doesn’t look so bad, when you stand in front and look inside you realize that this place is uninhabitable, it is a danger to life.”
The side the resident is talking about faces directly on to the Police station at Cuba and Chacón streets, a castle-shaped construction that mimics colonial architecture. The area, widely visited by tourists, also has a large concentration of hostels, cafes and private restaurants aimed primarily at foreign pockets.
“When we saw that it was raining and raining we feared the worst because when four drops fall in this city everyone knows what happens”
In the midst of this image of prosperity and entrepreneurship, the partially collapsed tenement building on Cuba Street houses low-income families and over the decades it has suffered deterioration and internal transformations to optimize every square meter. So-called barbacoas [barbecues] — a kind of horizontal platform — are built to create extra ‘floor space’ between the floor and ceiling in some rooms; doors open onto a load-bearing wall; and boarded up windows are some of these changes.
The deterioration of the entire property, together with the humidity that has made the structure even more fragile these days, have been decisive for what happened this Saturday. On Sunday state brigade was trying to remove the debris accumulated inside and collapse the parts that represent the most danger. The families residing in the tenement do not yet know if they will all be able to return.
Two days before the collapse, a family that lives there had sent a video [see below] to journalist Mario Pentón to warn about the danger they were in due to the poor condition of the building. After the collapse, other residents sent the América TeVé reporter some materials where they recorded what they experienced. At one point one of the affected people is heard saying: “The delegate said that this was not going to fall and she sees how it is falling,” referring to the representative of the Popular Power who serves that area of Old Havana.
The drama of these neighbors is repeated beyond that particular building. In June 2021, the Government approved the General Urban Planning Plan of Havana for 2030. The full text gave a detailed account of the pitiful situation of the capital, proposed a long list of solutions and actions, and finished with impossible budgets. Its status, two years and several collapses later, is alarming.
The document specifies, first of all, the state of Havana in all areas of urban planning, from green areas, sanitation, public transportation and, as a priority, housing. The section dedicated to Old Havana presents an overwhelming fact: more than 40% of the more than 20,000 homes identified in that area did not meet minimum habitability conditions.
The families residing in the block do not yet know if all of them will be able to return
Overall, the problem was summarized as follows: “High rate of collapses, mainly in the central areas of the city. Housed: 449 facilities, with 5,471 nuclear families (17,314 people). In critical condition: 946 properties, with 8,329 homes and 26,151 inhabitants. Tenements: 6,899 properties, with 60,170 nuclear families. 82 neighborhoods and 69 precarious centers, with 18,721 and 1,923 homes respectively, concentrated mostly in Boyeros, Guanabacoa, Arroyo Naranjo and San Miguel del Padrón. Changes of use for housing in “inadequate” premises.
To alleviate this situation, there were two main approaches: new construction for the outer ring areas, and comprehensive rehabilitation for the center, starting with Centro Habana, Cerro, Plaza and Old Havana, municipalities designated as degraded. From the first years, work had to continue in the area, including the recovery of 60% of the buildings in fair and poor technical condition, and prioritizing 12 blocks of the historic center (two of them in Old Havana).
The recommendations contained in that document were not put into practice. According to the 2022 Statistical Yearbook, the Government invested 3.226 billion pesos in hotels and 23.360 billion pesos in business and real estate services and rental (a section of diffuse content, which includes the construction of hotels). Meanwhile, 1.4% of the general state budget, 1.016 billion pesos, was allocated to housing construction. A minimal amount, which explains many of the tragedies that will continue to occur in Havana and other cities on the Island.
Hace menos de 48 horas una familia cubana me envió un video de las condiciones en la que estaba su edificio en Cuba #103 % Chacon y Tejadillo. Hoy en la madrugada el edificio colapsó. Los vecinos me comentan que hay varios heridos pero gracias a Dios no hubo que lamentar pérdidas… pic.twitter.com/l5HR0JUHdo
— Mario J. Pentón (@MarioJPenton) November 4, 2023
“Less than 48 hours ago a Cuban family sent me a video of the conditions in their building at #103 Cuba at Chacon and Tejadilla. Today, in the early hours the building collapsed. The neighbors tell me there are several injuries but thanks be to God there are no fatalities.”
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