Housing stock in Central Havana. Photo: M.J. Porter / Translator
The Paseo del Prado has been unsettled for the last couple of days, and not just because of the hustlers hustling and the hookers trolling for tourists. The uproar comes from the new Decree-Law No. 288 which establishes rules for the buying and selling of housing. A long-awaited measure that finally sees the light of day in the Official Gazette, to the relief of many and concern of others.
In the spontaneous housing exchange that exists on this pedestrian promenade bordered by bronze lions, the curious ask about the details of a measure undoubtedly more flexible, but still insufficient. They want to know if the property title that they have in their hands grants them, starting now, full rights to assign, inherit or sell their houses. In a nation that has lived for decades with a frozen real estate market, they find it hard to believe that everything will be as easy as some speculate, or as legal as the Ministry of Justice assures us.
One of the principal fears on the street now is concern about how the Central Bank will rule on the legitimacy of money used to buy real estate. Because for every transaction of this type, the cash must first be deposited in an account and the distrustful clients of our banking system fear that it could end up being confiscated if the state decides it didn't come from "clean" sources.
But to every risk people will respond with some kind of trick, so I imagine that from now on the funds declared and placed in the bank will be a half or a third of the real cost of the house. The rest will pass from one hand to another, from one pocket to another. For too long we have behaved like outlaws in this area, so one shouldn't expect that starting now everything will be done according to the 16 pages of the new decree.
There is also the possibility of a migratory stampede, because "the act of owners transferring their housing, before permanently leaving the country, is legal under the act." Thousands of Cubans have been waiting for this signal, like runners crouched at the starting line waiting for the gun to go off. The high costs of immigration procedures will be covered by the sale of homes that will be offered for sale in the real estate market. A house, for forty years an anchor, will become a set of wings.
It's notable, of course, that the new measure includes the tenuous twine that pulls the piñata out of reach, already evidenced in the decree about the sale of cars. The wedge of the pie reserved only for those ideologically most-trusted owners was expressed this time in Point 110. It states, "the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers and its President will be able to decide, with respect to housing located in determined areas of the country." We will see the map of the Island riddled with patches where the requirements to buy and sell will not be written anywhere.
The so-called "frozen zones" will grow and the social differences -- so often denied -- will flourish, particularly that deep abyss that separates those trusted who are with money from those citizens with resources not sanctified by power.
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