Home News The public houses are there but they remain empty – Maurizio Franco

The public houses are there but they remain empty – Maurizio Franco

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The public houses are there but they remain empty – Maurizio Franco

An office transformed into a house, a few square meters without a bathroom and a cupboard dividing the bedroom from the living room. “That’s all!” Says Carla, opening her arms wide at the door. She has been living here for twelve years, on the second floor of an occupied building on the outskirts of Rome. She is elderly and disabled, she only goes out to go to the hospital or to the doctor.

Carla, 64, tells her story as long as her real name is not revealed. In 2000, you applied for public housing. In the ranking she had collected an excellent score. In the meantime she slept on the street, on the benches of Termini station, and during the day she worked hard to find a job that would allow her to pay a rent. Her employment then came to a cleaning company that paid her 700 euros a month. “But when they didn’t renew my contract, occupying was the only way to have a roof over my head.” Carla made other requests for public housing in the following years. But she is still waiting for a response from the institutions. “Will they give me the house when I’m dead? I won’t do anything with it, ”she says.

The media speak of a housing emergency. On the other hand, the tenant unions and the organizations of the struggle for housing consider it a structural issue of Italian cities. The rankings for public housing (Erp) apartments are endless. Social housing, in many cases, has not been built for decades. And, according to the elaboration of 2016 data by Federcasa, the trade association of managing bodies, out of 785 thousand public houses existing in Italy, 55 thousand are vacant. Apartments not assigned due to lack of maintenance, because they are dilapidated or due to some bureaucratic obstacle.

A void that weighs, even economically, on the strategies to combat housing precariousness.

Again according to Federcasa, 320 thousand unanswered requests for social housing are present, while the potential pool of those entitled to it is 1.8 million people. To cope with this situation, they tell the association, 200 thousand new social housing should be built and the existing heritage regenerated. Federcasa believes that the resources deployed by the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRP) are “considerably underestimated compared to real needs and, above all, do not significantly affect the availability of new homes”.

Carla in her home in the occupied building where she has lived for twelve years, Rome, September 2022.

(Marco Mastrandrea for L’Essenziale)

According to Federproprietà, 604 public housing units were unused in 2016 in Bologna. The Sunia tenants union recently denounced that there are 3,600 Erp apartments vacant in Tuscany. In Campania, the regional administration has created a single telematic platform for the assignment and mapping of public housing and housing needs. In Naples, the ranking had not been updated for about twenty years: so the apartments, once returned for terminated lease, were not reassigned.

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Milan is the most striking case. According to the latest survey, last March, there are 5,555 vacant apartments of the Lombard building company (Aler Milano) and 5,580 those managed by the Milanese underground (Mm), a company created by the municipality in 1955 to design and manage the main metropolitan infrastructures, which have been taking care of the city’s real estate assets since 2014. “Many accommodations are still undergoing renovations. Many are worn by time and therefore unavailable. Others are left standing waiting to be put on the market and sold for budgetary needs, especially as regards Aler ”, explains Bruno Cattoli, of the Milan Tenants Union. Furthermore, he stresses, the assignment process is an obstacle course made cumbersome by bureaucratic procedures and checks on applicants’ documentation, which take more time. Months pass before the tenant can set foot in the house that belongs to him.

Since May 2018, as reported on the website of the municipality of Milan, 3,986 accommodations have been recovered. And the city has a number of annual assignments of about a thousand units, higher than other Italian metropolises. “But still insufficient to meet the needs of the 15 thousand families that clog the lists of public housing,” says Cattoli.

Maria grew up in a public house in Venice. Her first application for housing was rejected: she did not have the requisites to access the rankings. So she went to live with a relative, always in an Erp apartment, asking for temporary hospitality and paying an employment allowance. “I’ve always worked and I’ve been able to support myself,” she is keen to point out. She is an employee, she earns 1,300 euros a month. Her salary, however, is not enough to pay a private rent in Venice, to which are added the ever higher bills.

In the meantime, the relative assignee of the apartment has died and today Maria risks eviction, despite having always paid what she owed. “I’m not moving from here. Many tell me to go and look for a place outside of Venice. Why can’t I continue to live in dignity in my city? ”She says.

Its history illustrates well the process of expulsion of the proletarianized middle class from the lagoon. “The institutions do not recognize the ongoing residential crisis and Venice is emptying itself year after year due to the lack of an adequate housing policy”, says Raffaele Bolani, president of the Venetian Civic Council on the house, created to analyze the housing situation and extract information to the institutions, after the dismissal in 2015 of the “institutional” consultation. A “social buffer”, as Bolani describes it, which acts as an intermediary with the ERP and gives practical help to citizens.

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Michele Giglio at the Asia-Usb counter in San Basilio, Rome, September 2022.
(Marco Mastrandrea for L’Essenziale)

The Civic Observatory on the house and residence (Ocio), also born in Venice to analyze the urban dynamics of the Venetian capital, has mapped the public housing heritage, in particular empty houses. According to the data of last June, obtained through access to the documents, 2,208 apartments are not rented. One in five public housing: 1,274 apartments managed by the Ater Venezia and 934 by Insula Spa, owned by the municipality. Of these, 505 are among the “unused” and 123 are under maintenance. “The municipality only does routine maintenance. He doesn’t put a cent more on public housing ”, says Orazio Alberti who analyzed the residential fabric of Venice on behalf of the Ocio. A study by him shows that the funds for the recovery of vacant social housing come “entirely from resources allocated by the state (14 million euros) or the European Union (5.6 million euros)”. The administration contribution, for 2021, “is laughable, equal to 881 thousand euros”.

“The tourism of Venice has limited the private rental market, imposing stratospheric prices, in an economic context aggravated by the crisis following the pandemic,” says Alberti. The Observatory is one of the promoters of the High Tension Housing (Ata) campaign: neighborhood committees, collectives and associations have launched a bill to regulate short rentals for all those cities – identified by an inter-ministerial committee – where it is difficult to find a accommodation. A law to be extended throughout the national territory “to affirm an imperative principle of re-appropriation of urban space”.

“Housing occupations have become a social safety net because public houses are few and poorly managed,” says Michele Giglio, an exponent of Asia-Usb, seated behind his office desk. The union desk is wedged between the terraced lots of the Roman district of San Basilio, on the ground floor of a building. The township, close to the great ring road, has about 3,500 social housing. The counter – two communicating rooms covered with posters and folders – is a daily bustle of people seeking assistance.

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According to Asia-Usb, there are about a hundred empty apartments in the neighborhood. “But with the latest assignments, we have to make new calculations,” Giglio says. The trade unionist refers to the 141 public houses given to families who lived in the occupation of viale delle Province, a building along via Tiburtina. Thanks to the “passage from house to house”, families have been transferred without the use of public force. A result made possible by the negotiations, which lasted years, that the movement of struggle for housing has entered into with the administration.

Public housing Galline Bianche, Labaro, Rome, September 2022.

(Marco Mastrandrea for L’Essenziale)

The municipality of Rome has allocated 220 million euros for “the purchase of properties to be used for housing policies”, as reported on the website. “Not enough to fill the capital’s housing deficit,” Giglio emphasizes. In Rome there are about 14 thousand families in the ranking. According to the Union, tenants are assigned between 150 and 200 per year. But from August 2021 to last February, only 37 apartments were delivered. One of the main obstacles, according to the union, is the clutter of paperwork in the offices of the housing policy department, which suffer from a chronic shortage of staff. “In addition to the lack of ordinary and extraordinary maintenance of the buildings, built in the last century”, adds the exponent of Asia-Usb.

Silvia Paoluzzi of the Tenants Union explains that, when an apartment is assigned, the new tenant signs a sheet stating that the renovations are at his expense. “For this reason, there are few vacant houses in Rome compared to other cities”.

But the buildings are to be completely refurbished. The tenants organization has drawn up a list of reminders addressed to the managing body regarding the Erp buildings in districts such as Spinaceto, Lamaro and Primavalle. Flooded terraces, infiltrations, mold on the walls, collapse of ceilings and cornices and blocked elevators are some of the problems encountered. Giglio, from Asia-Usb, shows photos of wineries submerged in water and remembers the protests the union organized when many popular districts ran out of heating in 2019.

The municipality of Rome has published a five million euro tender to carry out maintenance works in the housing it owns. A resolution of the Lazio region provided for the sale of 3,544 apartments in Ater Roma. The estimated proceeds are 423 million euros: 218 million euros will be used to buy new public housing and 150 million euros to renovate the houses of the institution. “Ater could take advantage of the 110 percent bonus by obtaining incentives. But it didn’t happen. And the missed opportunity of the PNRR to design a new model of public building will inevitably fall on the shoulders of those who cannot afford a house today ”, says Paoluzzi.

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