Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cuba to Allow Thousands to Own Homes

April 12, 2008

HAVANA (AP) — Thousands of Cubans will be able to get title to state-owned homes under regulations published Friday, a step that could lay the groundwork for broader housing reform.

The measure was the first legal decree formally published since Raúl Castro succeeded his brother Fidel as president in February. It came a day after state television said the government would also do away with wage limits, allowing state employees to earn as much they can as an incentive to productivity.

The housing decree spells out rules to let Cubans renting from their state employers keep their apartment or house after leaving their jobs. They could gain title and even pass it on to their children or other relatives. Those who could take advantage of the new law include military families, sugar workers, construction workers, teachers and doctors.

“This is like no man’s land that they are legalizing,” said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who served time in jail for criticizing the government. “It gets rid of that insecurity many people had and alleviates bureaucratic pressure.”

By law, Cubans still are not permitted to sell their homes to anyone but the government, though they may swap housing with government approval — a process that can take years.

Two officials at Cuba’s National Housing Institute, who insisted on not being named because they were not authorized to speak to the foreign news media, said the new law was probably the first in a series of housing reforms.

Cuba, which is home to 11.4 million people, suffers from a severe housing shortage. Officials say half a million additional homes are needed. Critics say the need is twice that.

Regarding the lifting of wage limits, Ariel Terrero, a commentator on state television, said a resolution approved in February but not yet published would remove salary caps intended to promote social and economic equality, allowing state employees to earn as much they can.

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