The new policy that allows Cuban citizens to buy and sell homes was presented as the abolition of one more “unneccessary prohibition” and also as a way to address the housing shortage.
It can certainly do the latter by helping to redistribute the current housing stock, allowing those few with too much space to sell it off. But that only goes so far.
How then to expand the housing stock?
Do-it-yourself is one way, probably with limited potential too, but the government is trying to promote it.
Juventud Rebelde just reported that the government is disappointed that 2011 sales in stores that sell construction materials were 72 percent short of the forecast. (Culprits included uneven supplies and some high prices.) It also reports plans to open 39 more stores that sell hardware and home construction materials. The profits from these sales, Cuban television reported (see Prensa Latina) are being used to provide home repair grants for low-income households; this is a new program that has provided more than 200 grants in the first month. Beyond that, bank credits are also available.
Time will tell the impact of these measures. In the meantime, the stores themselves look to be what many of Cuba’s small entrepreneurs have been waiting for. I saw one in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood that opened in March 2011. While it had some big-ticket items (compressors for paint spraying) and some that were way overpriced (plastic garbage cans, $30-$70), there was a big variety of useful products, many at good prices. There were tools and materials for carpentry, painting, electric work, tile work, plumbing, and more. Most items were from China, with some from Spain, Taiwan (!), and the United States.