Since Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982, many buildings have been restored – and though the work continues, critics say the emphasis remains on preserving key buildings rather than improving the lives of the majority of the people who live here.
While certain buildings are fixed to a high standard, the vast majority of homes remain in a dangerous state. Age, decay, neglect, over-crowding and amateur repairs combine with natural factors to threaten the stability of Havana’s Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings. There are two or three partial or total building collapses in Old and Central Havana every week. And residents have no choice but to continue to live in the rubble.
Seven out of every 10 homes are in need of major repairs, according to official statistics. Some of the main issues faced by Havana’s denizens are dangerous, including outdated electrical wiring, basic or even nonexistent plumbing, unstable floors and walls, collapsing ceilings, water damage, mould and unstable stairs.
A shortage of homes means the province around the capital needs some 300,000 more properties.
Most of the once high-ceilinged houses of Havana have been divided both vertically and horizontally to provide more floor space. This puts the already weakened structures under additional strain. It also creates many dwellings with no windows or ventilation.