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Cubans to get titles to state-owned homes

Cubans will be allowed to get title to state-owned homes they rent under new regulations announced Friday that may pave the way for broader housing reform.

Cubans will be allowed to get title to state-owned homes they rent under new regulations announced Friday that may pave the way for broader housing reform.

A woman stands at the entrance of her house in Havana on Friday. ((Javier Galeano/Associated Press))

The measure was the first legal decree formally published since Raul Castro succeeded his ailing brother Fidel as president of the communist island country more than six weeks ago.

The decree details rules allowing Cubans who rent from their state employers to keep their apartment or house after leaving their posts. They could gain title and even pass it on to their children or relatives.

Those most affected by Friday's declaration are military families, sugar workers, construction workers, teachers and doctors.

"This is like no man's land that they are legalizing," said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who became a critic of the government. "It gets rid of that insecurity many people had and alleviates bureaucratic pressure."

By law, however, Cubans still cannot sell their homes to anyone but the government, though they can swap housing with government approval, a process that takes years.

Two officials at Cuba's National Housing Institute said that Friday's law is likely to be the first in a series of housing reforms.

Cuba, home to about 11.2 million people, suffers from a severe housing shortage. While officials say half a million extra homes are needed, critics put the number at double that.

Wage limits may be lifted

The new measure is part of a series of reforms since Raul Castro came to power in late February, the country's first new president in 49 years.

A day earlier, a commentator on state TV said the government also plans to do away with wage limits, allowing state workers to earn as much as they can as an incentive to increase productivity.

Economic commentator Ariel Terrero said a resolution approved in February but not yet published will remove salary caps.

"For the first time, it is clearly and precisely stated that a salary does not have a limit, that the roof of a salary depends on productivity," said Terrero, adding that he doesn't see it as a violation of the Cuban socialism.

Cuba's government controls more than 90 per cent of the economy. The average salary is about Cdn $20 per month, though the communist system provides most citizens with free education, health care and heavily subsidized food rations.

Other changes made since Raul Castro became president include allowing Cubans to buy cellphones, previously only the domain of government officials and foreign companies.

Also, a ban has been lifted on Cubans buying such goods as computers, DVD players and microwaves.

With files from the Associated Press