I50 years later – Cuba for sale
If you think this country's got real estate problems, how would like to live in one where owning real estate was forbidden? I happen to know of one, and it's only 90 miles from Key West.
Whenever I travel, I always take special note of the real estate culture of the country I happen to be visiting. I have written many times in this column about property values, financing and home styles of housing in various countries around the world. However, I have to admit I never looked into what's happening in one of our closest neighboring countries, Cuba, perhaps because there wasn't much happening, at least until now.
Since 1959, when Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries took control of Cuba, individual citizens of Cuba were not permitted to buy and sell homes. It's not that Cubans didn't own their homes, they did, but they were not permitted to change title if money was changing hands. You could pass the homes on to children or trade in a swap system, but selling on the open market, especially if it involved making a profit, was absolutely forbidden. Naturally, this system fostered bribery and corruption, leaving Cuban citizens with a severe housing shortage.
Fast forward 50 years, and we're looking at a stunning change in the Cuban government's philosophy of home ownership. In May at the Communist Party Congress, the approval was unanimously given to allow some form of legalizing the sale of real estate. The details relative to restrictions and taxes to be levied are yet to be released, but the Cuban government has indicated that it will likely take effect by the end of the year.
According to the Associated Press, "The economic overhaul aims to pull Cuba out of a deep fiscal morass by enacting free-market reforms while preserving the communist system. The guidelines also say the state will convert many public buildings into residential property in an effort to ease severe housing shortages that mean three and sometimes four generations of the same family are squeezed into a few crumbling rooms."
As interpreted now, only permanent Cuban residents will be permitted to own homes and then only one. This would exclude Cubans living in the United States to own directly. No provision will be made for Cuban exiles to reclaim former property.
Another interesting aspect to this enlightened economic guideline also involves legalizing the sale of cars and other vehicles, something else I had no knowledge of. Of course, in spite of vehicle sales being illegal, they were traded or loaned to other citizens through the use of underground brokers, frequently with money being exchanged under the table. Nevertheless, lifting this law will enable Cuban citizens the ability to trade in old vehicles, some from before the revolution, through legal means.
Whether this will be a good thing for the Cuban people remains to be seen. The devil is in the details, and the restrictions, when released, will tell the whole story about the real scope of the changes. Hopefully, sometime in the future, Cuban citizens can take another step on the road to independence and enjoy the benefits and joys of owning their own home – the good, the bad and the, well you know the rest of it.