52,000 Homes: More of the Same
For those who follow all the developments on the subject of housing in Cuba, the recent announcement that this year only 52,000 homes will be built, instead of 100,000, will not come as a surprise.
In “100 thousand homes, not now” an article I published in Consensus in 2005, I conducted an analysis of the report submitted to the National Assembly of the People’s Power by the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, Carlos Lage, in which he said that due to “improvement of the financial prospects of the country” they were going to “build and finish no fewer than 100,000 new dwellings per year beginning in 2006. Some of the arguments, from which I asserted they were sure not to complete this, were:
— Excessive attention to the construction of homes with the concept that “the principal builder is the family that will itself live on the property”, that is to say, “self-made” so as not to affect in the least “the works of the Battle of Ideas … “, to which professional builders would be devoted. That is, housing, the most vital and pervasive need of Cubans, does not qualify to be included as part of that battle.
— The illegality of the new concept. The Housing Act designates the Microbrigades as the “principal way to increase the plan for construction of housing,” while the new project, with no changes in the legislation, gives priority to the family as the principal constructor.
— Exclusionary nature. Lage said in his report that “outstanding social and revolutionary conduct will be given absolute priority in the selection process,” as a prerequisite “for selecting those to whom housing or materials are assigned.” That is, first the revolutionaries, an ideological criterion, discriminatory and exclusionary. Therefore people who do not attend military parades, although they are honest, hardworking and model families, would fail to qualify as revolutionaries, and would be excluded from the marvellous plan.
— Lack of a free-market for building materials at affordable prices. In Cuba, where high costs bear no relationship to incomes, they proposed “to set new prices and fees for all such payments, from the prices of imported resources and the foreign exchange costs of domestic production, using an exchange rate most appropriate to the current situation … “.
— Indefiniteness of the property. Lage said in the report: “At present 86% of families own their homes, a figure that will rise as another 150,000 are added in the coming years …”. The difficulty is that the current owners of a property may not sell, lease, exchange, rent, or loan it as they see fit. In the section on the 6,000 housing units that the state would build to allocate for health professionals who complete international missions, it stated that “they will pay for the building materials with their savings in foreign currency: at cost, for those produced domestically, and at the foreign exchange rate, for those imported,” without clarifying whether the property owner is the State or the health professionals, for the same report stated that “… it is essential to preserve state ownership of the homes built by the state, which will be assigned for rent.”
So far the weaknesses listed were not taken into account to identify the actual causes of the failure to complete the program for 100 thousand. The goal, now cut in half, is threatened by a fundamental flaw: the construction of housing cannot fall back on families if they lack the institutions, the means, and the rights that would enable them to actively participate in solving such a vital problem.
It definitely requires placing in the forefront the human being and from there defining the social function of housing as the foundation of citizen participation outside political, ideological or any other type of criteria. Ignoring this reality with make it very difficult to reach the 50,000 homes announced for 2008, an insufficient goal in relation to the accumulated deficit.
Translated by: Tomás A.