Fri Apr 11, 2008 8:17pm EDT
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Friday it would speed up the hand-over of private titles to state-owned housing to thousands of citizens, possibly paving the way for broader property reforms.
A decree published on Friday will expedite property titles for Cubans who have been renting state houses allotted to them as far back as 20 years ago through their workplaces.
The measure is the latest in a series of reforms to improve living standards and efficiency in Cuba's socialist state since President Raul Castro succeeded his ailing brother Fidel Castro in February.
Others include removal of a ceiling on state wages to create incentives and improve economic performance and allowing Cubans to stay at hotels formerly reserved for foreigners.
Since Raul Castro became Cuba's first new leader in almost half a century Cubans have been allowed to buy DVD players and other previously banned electronic appliances, and as of next Monday they can freely buy cellular telephones.
The state-owned homes were due to become privately-owned under existing law, but the process had become bogged down.
The decree published on the Web site of the Official Gazette (www.gacetaoficial.cu) simplifies bureaucratic steps to grant private titles and allows the homes to be passed on to children as inheritance.
Cuba has no real estate market, but people can swap homes through a legal process called a "permuta" in which money is paid under the table.
Many Cubans hope that future reforms will eventually include the buying and selling of homes.
Cuba has an estimate deficit of half a million houses, and many people live in overcrowded and dilapidated homes, often with three generations of a family living under the same roof.
According to official figures, 40 percent of Cuban housing needs repairs, but new home construction has fallen well below the target for the last two years.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)