On one Havana street, gentrification exposes old inequality

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Christine Armario (AP) writes about architectural changes, gentrification, and real estate in Havana. [Many thanks to Michael Connors for bringing this article to our attention.]

Halfway down Calle Habana, a crumbling two-story colonial building is being painstakingly restored by a Cuban-American businessman who fled as a child after the 1959 revolution. On the corner, brightly colored paintings hang in a home now converted into a chic art gallery. Not far away, dozens of people live in a crumbling government tenement with no running water and wooden stilts holding up what remains of the second floor.

[. . .] With tourism up nearly 20 percent since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro ended a half-century of Cold War in December 2014, Cubans with wealthy friends or family abroad are funneling millions of dollars into a real estate market that’s suddenly white-hot. They’re snapping up properties in historic Old Havana and elegant residential neighborhoods and transforming them into immaculate restored rental properties and hip bars and restaurants.

In some tourist-flooded neighborhoods the redistribution of wealth that transformed Cuba after its revolution appears to be rewinding before people’s eyes. Wealthy Cubans who left to live abroad decades ago are buying buildings once confiscated from families like theirs. Residents who had been living hand-to-mouth are selling deteriorating properties and taking their new fortunes and moving to less sought-after areas, or leaving the country entirely.

“When I arrived, it was totally different,” said Reinaldo Bordon, 44, who purchased the Calle Habana property where he runs Habana 61, one of the city’s top restaurants, with two friends three years ago. “If things continue at this pace, I think in another 10 years it will change a lot.”

Before Fidel Castro’s revolution, well-heeled Cubans lived in exclusive Havana neighborhoods like Miramar, while the poor lived in shantytowns. Providing equal housing was one of the revolution’s first goals. Almost immediately, evictions were prohibited and rental payments slashed up to 50 percent. Droves of middle- and upper-class Cubans fled, leaving behind mansions and suburban homes that the state handed out to the poor. The result was a leveling of Havana’s housing stock, with former maids and tenants becoming the proprietors of homes now managed by the state.

In 2011, Cuba announced it would allow people to sell their properties for the first time since the early years of the revolution. The new law set into motion what had not formally existed in decades: a Cuban real estate industry. Cubans living in peeling architectural gems began placing cardboard signs out front, inscribed with the words, “For Sale.”

Fueled by the post-detente boom in visitors, the resulting property turnover is moving at high speed in areas like Old Havana, where aging colonial buildings are being repaired on nearly every block. [. . .]

[AP photo above by Desmond Boylan. See photo gallery in the link below.]

For full article, see http://bigstory.ap.org/article/e9c179ac124c4e7484f4073ef3a0be54/one-havana-street-gentrification-exposes-old-inequality

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