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Reportage. Government leaders at the local and national level are facing difficult decisions about how to pay for billions in structural damage.

After Italy earthquakes, housing aide is already late

The truth is that we are already late. Nineteen years ago, when another earthquake hit the area on the border between Umbria and Marche, it took only 45 days to provide temporary shelter to 3,400 displaced people.

But 70 days have passed since the shocks swept Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto, and Commissioner Vasco Errani had predicted that it would take at least seven months to build temporary wooden houses. Now with this second wave that swept Umbria and the Maceratese region, who knows how long it will take?

Very little is known. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said that the containers will arrive by Christmas. It must be said that the number of displaced people is massive: 25,000, and the number keeps growing as checks continue. But the cost of the reconstruction is also ballooning.

Under the chapter on “supply, transport and installation of emergency housing solutions,” in the contract signed by Consip (the Procurement Center of the Italian public administration) in 2015, which is valid for the next six years, it says Civil Protection will pay €1,075 per square meter of dwelling. This is higher than the cost per square meter of masonry construction in the earthquake zone: between €750 and €1,000, according to data available on Immobiliare.it. In short, an emergency housing unit could cost more than a house.

The second batch of the contract includes 6,000 modules to be deployed in Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio and Abruzzo. In August, 850 containers were ordered to deal with the emergency, but now it is assumed that at the end, the order will be more than double. These units are steel and wood constructions between 40 and 80 square meters, removable and 60 percent reusable. The deal was awarded to Bologna’s Consorzio Nazionale Servizi. This is a company linked to Lega Co-op, which was embroiled in controversy a few years ago because one of the related companies was 29 Giugno, owned by Salvatore Buzzi, one of the protagonists of Mafia Capitale.

Now, however, the CNS is on the front row of the famous white list which should safeguard the reconstruction business from mafia infiltration, under the aegis of the National Anti-Corruption Authority President Raffaele Cantone and the prefect, former Commissioner in Rome, Francesco Paolo Tronca. The Council of Ministers was set to issue the second earthquake decree Friday.

In addition, the new designated affected area will be determined, which promises to be huge, straddling four regions (Marche, Umbria, Lazio and Abruzzo) and with at least 200,000 buildings to renovate or rebuild. In anticipation of the government’s actions, however, some institutions are already moving, like the City of Ascoli Piceno, which is preparing an urgent bid for the restoration of the San Francesco church, battered after Sunday morning shocks.

The larger cities like Ascoli, among other things, are faced with a choice. Joining the debate on the assignment of of government funds will mean, in all likelihood, having to suspend the various municipal taxes, which might compromise the already fragile budget. The choice Mayor Guido Castelli is facing is not the easiest: Should he get money to fix up the city — in the historic city center alone, 550 site inspection requests are recorded, virtually every building — and give up their tax revenues, or pay off the works with the city’s own funds?

It is a mystery, because there is no certainty about how much Chigi Palace will decide to shell out. Two weeks ago the bill was estimated at €4 billion over 10 years. It is now clear that we need a lot more, and we need to understand how Renzi will unravel the complicated European budget game.

The only thing everyone agrees on is that time is of the essence. Many buildings lightly damaged in August were cordoned off and left there without any intervention, but came down with the shocks last week. The mayor of Amandola (Fermo) Adolfo Marinangeli summed it up: “While waiting, the city fell down.”

Many other towns experienced the same situation. By Oct. 21, just 21,000 out of 77,000 requests for inspection had been dealt with. Now the number has almost tripled.

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