Cubans to be allowed to buy and sell homes

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In a potential game changer for the Cuban economy, the plenary of the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba voted Tuesday to allow the purchase and sale of homes by individuals.

Liberalizing residential real estate is part of a 311-point reform package the Party rank-and-file unanimously passed April 19.

It’s now in the hands of the national assembly to change the law, and the executive must issue specific regulations to implement the broadly worded measure from the Party guidelines.

While most Cubans hold title to their residence, they are currently not allowed to sell or buy homes. Cubans who want to move or need a smaller or larger home must rely on complex barter transactions called permuta that often involve three or more parties and cash or other compensation.

The commission in charge of discussing housing and construction at the Congress agreed Sunday to let the 1,000 delegates of the Party plenary vote on “establishing the purchase and sale [of homes], and provide more flexibility to other forms of transmitting real estate between natural persons,” said a report published by Granma.

The commission also recommended to cut red tape for remodeling, renovation, construction and leasing of homes. The Party has yet to publish the exact wording of the reform “guidelines.”¬†

With the step towards creating a market, the government intends to tackle a pronounced housing shortage that, despite cyclical construction and renovation efforts, is getting worse as Cuba’s aging housing stock keeps decaying.

For the past three years, the government has also encouraged homeowners to renovate and build with their “own means.” As part of that effort, the government is making construction material available at retail stores.

The 311 guidelines discussed at the congress also include a paragraph that allows “new modalities” for non-state construction.

The buying and selling of homes will not have an immediate impact on foreigners or foreign businesses, but it is part of a larger movement towards a real estate market in Cuba. Trying to stimulate construction of golf course and marina condominiums, the government published a regulation last fall that allows for buying and selling of tourism-related real estate between foreigners, based on 99-year leases of state land.

Over the years, the permuta system has become engrained in Cuban life. It spawned an informal exchange on the Prado Boulevard in Old Havana, an¬†official Website, as well as a¬†private Website¬†that claims to have more than 24,000 listings.¬†A Cuban comedy of¬†the 1980s (‚ÄúSe Permuta‚ÄĚ), starring Rosita Forn√©s, has¬†become a classic.

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