Jewish World Review Nov 7, 2011 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan 5772
Prerevolutionary gems in need of TLC
By Dale McFeatters
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The right to own a house and other real estate was taken for granted for millennia, so much so that the Sumerian king Urukagina mentions it only indirectly when he codified what is believed to be the world’s first set of written laws.
With the exception of a few disastrous detours — the Soviet Union under Lenin and China under Mao come to mind — humanity has been content to live with the concept of homeownership.
One notable holdout has been Cuba. In 1959, when Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, almost all private property was expropriated or confiscated. But in a dramatic departure from communist purity, the government of Raul Castro has decreed that Cubans are now free to buy and sell property, although they are limited to one principal residence and one vacation home.
A Cuban’s purchase of a home may lead to awkward questions. As one black-market real-estate agent told The New York Times: “Nobody who has been working honestly in a job in Cuba the past 50 years could possibly afford to buy a second home.”
The money, if not accumulated quietly over the years from off-the-books jobs, will likely come from family members living abroad, especially Cuban-Americans.
In fact, the government is wrestling with the question of whether foreigners should be allowed to buy Cuban real estate. An exception may be made for foreigners who buy vacation homes near resorts, but the authorities are understandably antsy about a free market in houses.
Cuba has such a housing shortage that anyone who has clear title to a house is likely instantly wealthy, at least on paper. Cubans are already beginning to sense the downside of a real-estate bubble. Sure, they can sell the family homestead for a fistful of money, but they have to turn around and pay an inflated price for another place to live.
Since the government technically controls the houses, no one put much into them in the way of maintenance, and the Soviet-era apartment blocks, like most Soviet-era construction, are already starting to fall apart.
Homeownership will give Cubans something they haven’t had for more than 50 years — a real stake in their island, since some small piece of it will be really theirs. It should be only a matter of months before the term “fixer-upper” becomes an indispensable part of the Cuban vocabulary.
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