Cuba to Allow Sale of Real Estate, Reversing Decades of Socialism

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Cuba will allow residents to buy and sell real estate starting Nov. 10, reversing a 50-year policy forbidding the practice.

Granma, a Cuban state newspaper, reported the change, which will allow citizens to own a permanent home and vacation home. The government will recognize the sale, exchange, donation and award of property, including in the event of divorce, death and permanent departure, potentially allowing expatriates the right to reclaim their homes after leaving the country.

It's a reversal of a long-standing socialistic policy, which eliminated the open real estate market when Fidel Castro came to power. As part of his idealogy to guarantee home ownership, eduation and health care to all citizens, Castro passed the Urban Reform Law in 1960, which gave around half of the renters ownership of their homes. Others were given low rents of no more than 10 percent of houshold income, which would eventually become full ownership. Most owners were compensated, aside from slum landlords, according to Jill Hamberg's Cuban Housing Policy.

The government would move to build new homes and provide renovations in rural areas. Starting in 1971, microbrigades of workers were hired to build housing, tripling construction rates for the next four years. In 1984, the Housing Law gave more renters their homes, allowed short-term private rentals and updated housing law. But following the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent economic hardships, Cuba's economy fell sharply, requiring the country to move towards capitalistic practices such as allowing foreign investors to enter the country.

With Fidel Castro's deteriorating health and the political rise of his brother Raul, Cuba has shifted towards more free market allowances. In May, The New York Times reported that the Cuban government approved the development of four luxury golf resorts on the island, built by foreign companies, including Canadian company Standing Feather International and London-based Esencia Group. The Cuban government will receive a part of the profits from the resorts, which are targeted at non-American foreign tourists.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba, which dates back to the Cold War, has been a major factor in suppressing economic growth, but the Obama administration has relaxed rules, allowing relatives to send money to Cuban residents with no restrictions, which could lead to home ownership by proxy and more outside investment. Americans are still not allowed to spend money directly, unless they have permission from the government.

By lifting the ban on selling homes, the Cuban government will open another avenue for tax revenue, while hoping to streamline procedures related to the transfer of home ownership, according to Granma. It will offer a legal alternative to the current black market conditions, which can lead to fraud. The government said there is a housing shortage of 500,000 homes in the country of over 11 million people.

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