Residents of 505 Zulueta Street Carry on Without Institutional Respect

This video is not subtitled but clearly shows the state of the building at 505 Zulueta Street

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 8 September 2018 — If it rains, bad; if the sun shines, the same. For the residents of the half-ruined building at 505 Zulueta Street in Havana, there is no peace treaty with the climate. The hurricanes make them nervous and the long dry periods make the whole structure creak. After more than two decades living among the ruins without any institutional response, their patience is exhuasted.

The former GranVia Hotel is currently inhabited by eight fmailies, eight of them on the upper floors. The problems started 40 years ago, when in 1978 the building was declared uninhabitable, but the situation worsened at the beginning of the 90s. The structure began to lean and collapse at different corners.

While waiting for state institutions to offer them alternative housing, a few of the residents resist from within the building. “Almost half of it has completely collapsed,” explains Miroslaba Camilleri, one of the residetns, to 14ymedio.

Recently, an apartment on the first floor collapsed, leaving all the residents without a water tank, which the building collapses onto. Now they have to carry water from neighborhing buildings, a labor that us very complicated because of the damage to the stairs.

“Since the 80s they needed to evacuate it to make repairs, but in the 90s children were born in the building who are already men and women who have children themselves are still here,” complains Ricardo Fromenta, anoth of those who risk their lives every day living in the ruins.

Most of the residents suspect that the authorities are waiting for everyone to abandon the building, “to repair it and convert it into a hotel.”

“They don’t want to invest all the resources it takes to repaid it if its for families to live in,” laments one of the residents, who asked to remain anonymous.

The City Historian’s Office has included the former Gran Via Hotel among its future projects, but no employee of the Office, led by Eusebio Leal, could tell this newspaper if the building willonce again function as a residence, or be dedicated to tourism.

Over the years the family have had to deal with the holes, the wooden posts that hod up part of the roof and keep the stairs from falling Accidents and injuries have not been missing, but, fortunately there have been no victims to lament, but many fear that their luck will run out at any moment.

A few months ago, the residents met with representatives of the municipal and provincial government along with officials from the Historian’s Office, says Liubus Garlobo, another of the residents. “No one has given us an answer, they’re not telling us if they’re going to let us be killed here,” she complains.

The residents’ last hope is in a letter sent to the National Assembly, but the answer may take up to two months, a timespan Miroslaba Camilleri believes might be longer than the building will remain standing.

“No one has showed up here to show any concern,” laments Garlobo, who stresses that many buildings are being built in Old Havana, most of them for tourists. The only alternative offered by the authorities has been to invite residents to stay in the House of Culture, which they have rejected, believing that this measure would be like the concept of a common shelter, without privacy or divided spaces.

Last May, during the intense rains of subtropical storm Alberto, the family living on the ground floor of the dilapidated building moved a crib, a large bed and a baby carriage out into the portico, for fear that the roof would collapse on them while they sleep. They spent several days in the open air, but had to return to their apartment because of the lack of alternatives.

“This building has had 23 partial collapses. Eight families live above our apartment, although some have gone to shelters,” Iraida Alberto, the grandmother of a four-year-old girl and another of two months who live in former Gran Via told this newspaper.

In 2009 a large part of the place collapses and the authorities offered the families a place on Muralla Street where they could build their own homes with their own labor. Initially the work would have lasted just 18 months, but after 8 years they have only managed to obtain housing for those who gave up their jobs and were able to dedicate themselves body and soul to building their new homes.

The remainder, especially the families with divorced mothers and elderly people without children, had not choice but to remain at 505 Zulueta, where they are still waiting for a soluiton.

Cuba has a housing deficit of more than 800,000 homes. Of the 3.8 million residential units on the island, at least a third are in “regular or bad” condition according to official data.

When a family suffers the loss or collapse of their housing they are often relocated to a shelter, an option rejected by the residents of the old Gran Via Hotel. The length of stay in a shelter is on average 20 years, and in the 120 of these shelters located in the capital, the majority of them are old motels or industrial warehouses, there are more than a 126,00o people crowded in, while another 34,000 struggle to get a place in one.

For the authorities, it’s as if none of these buildings existed,” says another resident of the property where, every night, the residents are alert to every sound of creaking that comes from the roof.


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