After Irma rav­ages Ha­vana, city high­lights hous­ing re­place­ment drive

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

(Reuters) After Hur­ri­cane Irma wrought havoc on Ha­vana’s de­crepit build­ings and killed four in build­ing col­lapses there, city au­thor­i­ties held a rare media brief­ing to stress they were pri­or­i­tiz­ing


solv­ing the cap­i­tal’s long­stand­ing hous­ing needs.

A quar­ter of build­ings in the Cuban city are in “bad or reg­u­lar” shape, ac­cord­ing to the pro­vin­cial hous­ing au­thor­ity, due largely to a pun­ish­ing trop­i­cal cli­mate, lack of ad­e­quate main­te­nance and pas­sage of time.

Some Ha­vana res­i­dents com­plained Irma would not have been as deadly if au­thor­i­ties had ad­dressed their hous­ing needs, a crit­i­cism au­thor­i­ties re­jected.

Eu­clides San­tos, in charge of Ha­vana hous­ing, told a small group of for­eign re­porters the city had put a strat­egy in place in 2012 to re­pair hous­ing as well as pro­vide new homes even if lack of re­sources made it hard to ful­fill its goals.

Around 50,000 fam­i­lies in to­tal were in need of new hous­ing, San­tos said.

“We have de­liv­ered 10,000 or so homes so far to people in shel­ters which means the pro­gram is achiev­ing re­sults,” he said on Fri­day, not­ing the city had nearly dou­bled an­nual spend­ing on con­struc­tion in that time to around 185 mil­lion Cuban pe­sos, equiv­a­lent to some $7.7 mil­lion.

Some Cubans had been wait­ing in com­mu­nal shel­ters for more than 20 years at the start of the pro­gramme, said San­tos, point­ing to the economic cri­sis Cuba went through after the fall of the Soviet Union. The coun­try has also suf­fered from the decades-long US trade em­bargo.

Ha­vana had fo­cused first on pro­vid­ing homes for those Cubans, then for those who had been wait­ing 15-19 years. Now it was looking to re­solve hous­ing needs of those who had been wait­ing 1014 years.

“There is a strat­egy to re­duce the time fam­i­lies have to spend in th­ese places,” San­tos said, adding that around 7,000 people were re­sid­ing in Ha­vana’s 109 shel­ters.

Fam­i­lies have lit­tle pri­vacy in the shel­ters, where flimsy walls or even wash­ing lines are of­ten used to crudely di­vide the units. Many Cubans say they would rather risk their lives stay­ing in their crum­bling homes than move to one.

Oth­ers say they would pre­fer to re­main in ex­ist­ing homes in the city centre, even though they are fall­ing apart, rather than move to new houses they com­plain are shod­dily built and out of town.

The city’s aim had been to build 3,000 homes per year, which would have solved 80-90 per cent of Ha­vana’s hous­ing needs by 2020, San­tos said. How­ever, a lack of re­sources meant it had only man­aged to build be­tween 2,200 and 2,300 homes per year so far.

With ship­ments of cheap oil from Venezuela re­duced and Cuba’s ex­ports down, the cash­strapped is­land na­tion has had to cut im­ports over the past two years. Irma added to those woes.

While the eye of the hur­ri­cane did not reach Ha­vana, trop­i­cal-storm force winds and heavy rains of its outer bands, as well as a storm surge, lashed its build­ings. Nearly 200 were com­pletely de­stroyed.

Two broth­ers were killed in densely packed Can­ter Ha­vana when a wall fell on their flat.

San­tos said au­thor­i­ties had urged them to evac­u­ate the build­ing which they knew was in bad shape. The ac­tual owner of the flat had al­ready been given a new home and they were squat­ting there, he said.

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