Gotta Have Dough to Repair Your Pad

Take note. Two-thirds of the homes on the island are in fair or poor condition. Almost all the water works are deteriorated, and as a result of leaks, almost 65 percent of water distributed is lost. By way of example, in the City of Havana more than 80 percent of multi-story buildings cry out for major renovation.

If you walk down the streets of Havana, you’ll notice the unpainted walls of homes and buildings. Now, let’s cross our fingers. According to the 49-year-old architect Germán Delgado, a level 5 hurricane or an earthquake like the ones that hit Haiti or Chile, would take down 50 percent of the housing in the capital city of Cuba.

Before 1989, the paternalistic State was in charge of repairing buildings and used to sell construction materials for modest prices. That was long ago. Nowadays, the useless paternalistic State is senile and has a rope around its neck. There are no funds at all. The maximum it can do is rent to you a parcel or an old dysfunctional shop – if you are or seem to be pro-government – and you are on your own for building something.

Eighty percent of the Cubans own their homes. But that is only in appearances. A statistical mirage. A home owner cannot sell his house, and if he leaves the country he loses his rights to his property. But the critical moment is when a person decides to make necessary repairs to their home.

As a general rule, the tenants decide to make repairs on their dilapidated homes: to prevent the roof caving in on their heads, to install a door, window or similar emergencies.

Materials of certain quality, such as ceramic tiles, flooring, toilets or sinks are sold in hard currency. And they are expensive. Period. If you are going to fix a medium size kitchen, 15 meters of ceramic tiles are needed, you need to have a minimum of 150 Cuban convertible pesos or CUC (120 dollars). A square meter of the best ceramic tile costs 30 Cuban convertible pesos.

To continue, open your wallet again, to spend 90 CUC (75 dollars) if, for example, if you need 6 meters of ceramic tile for the kitchen floor. By now the bill adds to 240 CUC (210 dollars). To that amount add the cost of plumbing pipes, a new sink and water faucets, that could very well cost you 200 CUC (180 dollars). The cherry on top is the payment to the masons, who make 6 to 8 CUC per square meter to lay the tile.

And continuing on. For a medium size kitchen you have to come up with at least 800 Cuban convertible pesos (740 dollars).

The point is that in Cuba the vigilant and preoccupied Daddy State does not pay its workers in hard currency. Only for a segment of the work force, the ones who work the tourist industries, telecommunications and civil aeronautics, is a small percentage of their salary paid in hard currency, never more than 35 CUC (32 Dollars) a month.

That is why, with few exceptions, this type of repairs and reconstruction, can be done by Cubans with FE (Family living in the Exterior). Thanks to those dollars or euros, the great majority of Cuban families can aspire to have a worthy home.

The expenses do not end with the kitchen. Later is the bathroom’s turn.  Later the rest of the house. In Cuba it is a habit to save part of the remittance sent by relatives in exile with a thousand sacrifices, or the hard currency earned in a foreign country by those Cubans who have the possibility to travel or work part of the time in a foreign country

A detail, important. Paperwork and receipts have to be kept in a safe place and in order, because an avalanche of inspectors, the majority of them corrupted,  to check the people involved in home repairs often to “detect irregularities.”

And what does Daddy State do? Nothing. Only hard and pure propaganda in the official media, about the number of houses built or repaired.  But very few believe this news.

There are families who have lost their homes because they collapsed or because of the hurricane winds demolished them. Many have been living in dirty State Shelters, resembling prisons more than a home. In the country the situation is even more difficult due to the great amount of homes made out of palm trees and wood.

Besides being excessively expensive, the variety and the supply of materials to repair a house is very small. Not even with money in  hand can you find ceramic tiles, tiles, sinks or toilets. Nobody told me. I lived it in the first person. I am also trying to to repair my run down apartment.

Ivan Garcia