10/07/13 - Havana Times - Housing in Cuba: An Unresolved Nightmare
By FERNANDO RAVSBERG*
Yoanka Penda has been living in a shelter for 10 years. She has to get her
water from outside the house because they forgot to equip the adequate
housing she was assigned with water piping. Photo: Raquel Perez
HAVANA TIMES No-one from the Ministry of Housing has come around to see
the finished house, this is the first time in 10 years that journalists
have paid any attention to people living in shelters, the housing
project was completed 3 months ago and we still dont have running water,
this has been one lie after the other, were going to be packed in like
The people living in Havanas La Granjita shelter are housewives,
pensioners, teachers, students, health professionals and translators. All
of them live with their families in this former guest house and complain
about the scant attention they get from the Housing Department.
The government recently acknowledged a 600-thousand-house deficit and
announced it would construct housing for those living in shelters. Nearly
28 thousand units would need to be constructed in Havana alone to house
all who have lost their homes and are currently living in relatively safe
but inadequate locales.
Building efforts have already begun at La Granjita, but residents
complain of shoddy workmanship, theft of construction materials,
unventilated rooms, apartments without running water and leaky roofs.
My house burned down and we were left out in the street. We survived
thanks to our neighbors, who let us cook and bathe in their home, Yoanka
Penda told us, adding: it was very hard for us because I was only 13 and
already the mother of a small child.
Despite government investments aimed at turning Havanas La Granjita
shelter into proper homes, apartments without running water and with leaky
roofs and unventilated rooms are being built there. Photo: Raquel Perez.
Life became hard for her indeed: after the fire, she built a wooden house
and hurricane Michel tore it down. As a teenager, her son spent all of
his high school years in the rural boarding school because he had nowhere
else to go.
She was assigned a room at La Granjita 10 years ago. This past June, she
was given a 2-bedroom apartment, but we still dont have running water,
the doors are coming off their hinges, the roofs are leaking, the rooms
are unventilated, and they have the nerve to tell me this is adequate
She tells us that weve been assigned a construction brigade and no one
from Housing even comes around to see how the building is coming along.
Thats why they always do a bad job, the building brigades leave the work
unfinished and steal materials.
The Housing Department: Fibs and Lies
Maria del Carmen Linares is the chair of the blocks Committee for the
Defense of the Revolution (CDR). She tells us that some 90 people (14
families) live at the La Granjita shelter. Despite her position, she
does not conceal her irritation about Housing authorities.
We have no running water here, all we get is a trickle. We have no
cistern, no tanks, no water pump. At every meeting we have, the people
from Housing tell us theyre going to fix the problem, but nothing changes
afterwards. They havent done anything; its all been fibs and lies.
Investment in housing is urgently needed in Cuba. According to the
government, 40 % of Cuban homes are in regular or poor condition and 85 %
of buildings require repairs. To eliminate the countrys housing deficit,
60 thousand homes would need to be constructed a year, and only 16
thousand are currently being built. Photo: Raquel Perez.
The people from Housing and us agreed they would build 14 1, 2 and
3-bedroom apartments, but now they want to build 17 2-bedroom units. We
feel that you cant put an 8-person family in 2-bedroom apartment, were
going to be packed in like sardines if they do.
We have no one to turn to and have no control over the use of
construction materials, she says, adding: No one from Housing comes
around here. The administrator was here in July. She took August off, and
is going away on vacation in September.
Bread and Sugared Water
Jacqueline Marcos Oviedo is a teacher. Shes been living in the shelter
for 3 years without a food ration booklet, because every time I go see
Juan Alberto Nachi, hes not there and no Housing official in the
neighborhood knows where he is.
Every week, I take time off classes to go look for him, because I need my
ration booklet to get my food. Sometimes, the only thing I have for
breakfast is a piece of bread and sugared water, adding that I cook
using a gas cylinder that my neighbors lend me, or I bring home the food
from the school, for my children.
Marieta Santana is 23. She has a university degree in English and French.
For her, coming to live in a shelter, leaving behind my neighborhood,
neighbors and friends, was traumatic. She complains that the lack of
public transportation where she lives keeps her from going out. The only
thing Ive learned to do here is stay in the house.
She believes La Granjita could improve, but it would need more than
bigger apartments. They have to asphalt the roads here, because theyre
all overgrown with weeds, and that attracts frogs, rats, mosquitos and
cockroaches. When it rains, the place turns into a swamp and you cant
even get into the building.
Its a Mess
Many construction projects are left unfinished, like this hole for a
cistern which, today, could prove a deadly trap for the children living in
the shelter. Photo: Raquel Perez.
Dulce Maria Perez is a pensioner who worked as a draftsperson for 34
years. Shes been living at the shelter for 10 years, with no hopes of
getting an apartment. They changed the construction plans. They are no
longer planning to build 1-bedroom apartments, and she lives all by
She tells us that we make no progress. They build something and then they
tear it down because of a lack of planning. The first thing youd have
to do is put together a decent plan, but they started building without a
general idea of what they were going to do with the sewage water, the
electricity and the water supply.
What theyve done is a mess, but Im not worried. Ive been able to get
by without a sink, without a place to wash in, washing things and throwing
the water out into the street. Ive had two heart attacks since moving
here and Im not going to get wound up anymore.
The people at La Granjita are happy to see the Cuban press finally pay
attention to them and that the government has decided to build them homes.
Dulce tells us that the good thing about all this is how bad things have
gotten, because no one ever does anything until something blows up in
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