As a nation in transition, Cuba represents a unique opportunity for knowledge-sharing on land policy, which will be a foundational component of a more open economy. The Lincoln Institute, which has done work in the island nation for many years, is rekindling collaboration on key areas in land management and land-based financing, in parallel with the ongoing historic thaw in US-Cuban relations.
"With the opening of private property markets and the new role of the foreign investor, Cuba is faced with a number of new challenges, as well as unprecedented opportunities to learn from the experiences of other nations in Latin America and beyond," said Martim Smolka, director of the Lincoln Institute's Program on Latin America and the Caribbean.
Smolka recently returned from Havana, where he met with Cuban officials under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme, and presented at a well-attended panel on land-based financing tools at the 15th International Convention on Land Use and Urban Planning.
The future of property and land in Cuba - and how the country can develop in an equitable and balanced way - is one of the biggest issues facing the country. A very limited yet vibrant housing market has existed for many years, based on housing swaps, known as permutas, the indirect participation of foreign parties through Cuban family members or associates, and a lively informal land and housing market.
Now, as Cuba transitions toward a more expansive property market, much work needs to be done to track titles and the ownership of land and property - essentially a new official land register and cadaster. The legal status of post-revolution properties needs clarification.
"The landscape needs to be more legible," Smolka said.
An updated land registry and legal infrastructure is not only crucial for a well-functioning property market, but also for the establishment of a property tax and other land-based financing mechanisms.
The redevelopment of Havana Harbor provides a special opportunity to capture the increase in private land values generated by rezoning or public investment, and use it for the benefit of the public. Value capture tools can help in the ongoing building-by-building rehabilitation in the Old Havana historical center as well, in keeping with an effort to protect residents from displacement. The Historian's Office of Havana (Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad de La Habana), responsible for the regeneration of the historic center of Havana, has designed an innovative value capture scheme to help fund the rehabilitation of buildings and overhaul of deteriorated urban infrastructure.
The Lincoln Institute revisits Cuba with an open mind, Smolka said, but brings expertise and experience in Latin America and other parts of the world in transition, such as the potential establishment of a property tax in China, and administrative systems related to private land markets in Eastern Europe. Among the many publications to date in connection with our engagement in Cuba are the working paper, Urban Land as a Factor in Economic and Social Inclusion, a case study of Havana; and the Land Lines article, Using Land Value to Promote Development in Cuba, exploring the concept of value capture in a framework of land-based financing tools to promote equitable economic development.