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CUBA
A home of one’s own
Lucila Horta
5/16/2007
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Lack of materials frustrates recipients of house-building program.

In 2005, Cuba launched a unique housing program — the Special Program for Housing Construction and Repair — that aimed to create 100,000 apartments each year.

More than 119,300 homes were built by the end of 2006, and the first 6,000 were given to health care professionals working abroad as an incentive to return to Cuba. Some 380,000 housing repair projects also began, but there are some 600,000 that still need attention.

Families seeking credits will take care of the construction labor, with the help of the respective labor centers.

Improvised construction is nothing new for Cuba. The country lacks workers for massive housing construction and efforts for infrastructure improvements or industrial developments, so the so-called “microbrigades” were created in 1970.

This was an initiative of President Fidel Castro and was inspired by many other collective labor projects such as voluntary cane cutting for large harvests or national reforestation programs.

The microbrigade movement was founded by laborers and professionals whose jobs are taking over temporally by others, while continuing to receive their salaries. When they finish constructing the building, they are given an apartment and pay 10 percent of their salaries as rent.

Needs unmet
These workers’ movements have created 2.7 million housing units in buildings from three to 15 stories or individual houses over the last 40 years, 76 percent of the housing market, but it still falls short of what the population requires, since it nearly doubled in that period.

Cuba’s housing crisis is partly owed to the economic crisis of the early 1990s that slowed housing construction as assets in these industries — particularly cement — ran dry. High-powered hurricanes also affected 580,000 homes in Cuba in recent years, and more than 73,000 of them were completely destroyed.

Even though workers did not halt construction, many projects were suspended for years and when economic conditions improved, priority was given to build and repair schools and hospitals (LP, Oct. 7, 2002).
The new housing program seeks to use materials native to each site as a means to save money.

Tall buildings are no longer constructed, only apartment houses between two and five floors, and each apartment or house has between two and four bedrooms, a living room, one bathroom, a patio, balcony and an area of between 87 and 100 square meters (313 to 396 square feet.).

Both private companies and the workers’ groups supervise construction along with the National Housing Office because the workers are not always trained in building construction, making it likely that they would violate norms or make errors.

That was the case during the construction of one Havana building that was planned to have five stories and 45 three-bedroom apartments as well as a community doctor’s office. Construction should have stopped at four floors since later the supervising company found that the foundation was insufficient to hold five floors.

Juan González, who headed that project, said the problem with the current nationwide plan that “it is very ambitious to build 100,000 houses per year.”

“The idea is generous, but look, we have stopped this (project) for lack of supplies, above all sandstone. The quarry where the supply used by Havana is extracted is exhausted and we have to bring it in from other provinces. This increases the price and causes delays,” he said.

Logistics problems
“To me it seems that there are also organizational problems because my building, six blocks from here, we started five years ago and there are others nearby that have made their foundations after and they’re further along,” said Pedro Mompié, another project manager upset because the project does not provide enough materials.

The program also requires big investment and requires purchases of some implements outside of Cuba when they are not available on the island.

The Guanabacoa Forge Plant in the capital is the only factory in the country that manufactures sewage tubing for homes, among other parts. In Santa Cruz del Norte in Havana, a new flooring factory is capable of producing 3.3 million square meters of floor per year, and the Havana factory San José de las Lajas just opened a plant of toilet bowls and three brick factories just opened up in the eastern provinces.

The housing program has a budget of US$84 million for these industries, but the optimal results have not been achieved because some of the modern furnishings and materials are installed in old facilities, which reduces their performance. Foundation materials in each province differ and as a result, so do the advances in each region.

According to Edilio Garrido, a veteran architect who has designed schools, hospitals and homes all over the country, “the reality is that there aren’t enough materials for such a high production rate.”  “Regardless, this experience of how the people are building their homes and those of others is notable.”

 


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One family pours cement for the foundation of their new house. (Photo: Marta Sojo)
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