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    “House Agent”: A Very Lucrative Business in Havana / Iván García

    "House Agent": A Very Lucrative Business in Havana / Iván García
    Iván García, Translator: JT

    Genovevo, age 58, has been imprisoned twice and on three occasions has
    been arrested for criminal dangerousness. He is a 'house agent', as they
    call those who — under the table — dedicate themselves to transmit
    trades, purchases, or sales of houses in Cuba. A business where there
    isn't anyone to tell the tale.

    "The acquisition or sale of houses was something prohibited by national
    law. People with money on the island or foreigners married to Cubans do
    whatever is possible to buy themselves a house. That's when I appear. I
    have good contacts in the Housing Institute — the most corrupt of the
    agencies — and I manage all the legal paperwork. Besides, I'm a guy you
    can trust", says Genovevo.

    The housing problem in Cuba is as old as the revolution. And as complex.
    Until June, state enterprises had only finished 8,831 of the 23,394
    houses they had promised to build in 2011. Private builders had finished
    3,206 of the 19,606 (houses) forecast for this year. To that we add that
    of the construction materials destined for the populace to repair or
    extend their homes, in the first semester only 15.6% had been sold.

    It's true that 85% of the citizens are owners of their homes. But the
    State prohibits them from selling them. And in the case of a legal exit
    from the country, if a relative isn't named who lived with them for many
    years under the same roof on the ownership title, the government seals
    the property and keeps the abode.

    So it has been going until now. General Raul Castro has promised that
    things are going to change. In the 6th Congress of the Communist Party,
    which took place in April 2011, the buying and selling of houses was
    authorized. In the same manner, they're thinking about abolishing a
    series of bureaucratic forms regarding swaps.

    But in Cuba everything moves at a tortoise's pace. And, although many
    citizens want to sell or buy a house, the functionaries say that they
    haven't been given the green light yet.

    Luisa, age 34, married to an Italian already has everything arranged to
    acquire a residence. She is awaiting the permit from the government.
    "They told me July, when the parliamentary sessions take place, they
    will ratify the means to do so. Meanwhile, you can't buy nor sell
    houses", she indicates in the vicinity of the Housing Institute.

    But guys like Genovevo don't stop for government prohibitions. "Now is
    when I have more work. The usual housing market is very active. People
    know that when sales are legalized, the prices will double. If today an
    apartment is worth 15,000 dollars, the following day it will cost 30
    thousand. A mansion the same way: if now it costs 40 thousand, I don't
    doubt it will reach 80 or 90 thousand dollars", he assures.

    Automobiles aren't staying behind. In this time, in Havana a 60-year-old
    car in a well-preserved state can cost more than an apartment. According
    to the house 'agents', this tendency is going to revert.

    "I believe that in no place in the world would a car be worth more than
    a house. But Cuba is a strange country, where the abnormal is normal and
    vice-versa. Those who want to buy houses are desperate. They know that
    properties are going to appreciate, the same as land", Susana — an
    expert 'agent' clarifies.

    Trading is also complicated on the island. Owing to a group of absurd
    regulations, the owner has to testify or justify why, for example, he
    wants to trade a 3-room apartment for a house with a garage and 5 rooms.
    The state functionaries, first-rate scoundrels, smell money under the
    table and begin to block or obstruct the trade, in search of a cut off
    the top.

    "In Cuba, when a family trades its house for a better one, with more
    square footage, there is always money in between. If they don't "square
    up" with the Housing Institute inspectors, the swap doesn't take place.
    I tell you as someone who's made enough money in this business", says
    Esther, ex-functionary, who thanks to her job could make sufficient
    dollars to get a good residence and a good car.

    The 'agents' of trades and houses are accustomed to collecting 10% of
    the money that moves in a transaction. Sometimes more. Genovevo, an ace
    of the deal, has closed deals with earnings up to 10 thousand dollars.
    And although they have caught him twice infringing laws and have put him
    behind bars, the money and his influence have been valuable in being
    placed in conditional freedom before a year has gone by.

    Today he lives on a well-furnished floor, with an enormous 52 inch
    plasma television in the living room. He has gotten good houses for his
    three children. He has money for certain luxuries. "Nothing from the
    other world. To eat seafood in the Chinese neighborhood and occasionally
    lay down with a whore. That which I like most is going out to fish on
    the weekends. And the only way to get money is being a 'house agent', a
    job where I feel fulfilled", he underlines while he drinks mango juice.

    And if in the deal Genoveno isn't going to earn a minimum of 2 or 3
    thousand dollars, please don't bother him.

    Photo: Ketari. A section of the Paseo del Prado, in the heart of Havana,
    has turned into a meeting point for 'house agents' and for people who
    want to trade their home. Since no legal office exists for these
    exchanges, the people do it themselves, rustically, using notebooks with
    handwritten notation or tacking sheets with proposed exchanges on the
    trees, as you see in the photo.

    Translated by: JT

    August 5 2011


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