While Florence mayor Nardella was opening Stefano Bonaccini’s election campaign for PD secretary in Imola, saying that he agreed 100 percent with the contents of his program, a new front has been opened in the city that could give the mayor and his hegemonic party a few things to worry about.
The initiative is centered around two referendum questions that aim to protect residents by banning student residence halls from taking part in the tourist accommodation business, and by making it more difficult to change the destination of properties used for public services. In short, the goal is to open a debate on the future of Florence, in which, for many years now, large international real estate groups have been hoarding condos, residential buildings, public real estate complexes such as hospitals and disused barracks, and even former industrial areas, not only in the historic center but in all the most valuable districts, including the hilly areas.
Drafted by lawyers Paolo Solimeno and Claudio Tamburini with the collaboration of Tommaso Grassi, the two referendum questions were launched with a public meeting to collect the first 500 signatures. The initiative was promoted by the city’s ever-lively alternative left, with city councilors Dmitrij Palagi and Antonella Bundu of Sinistra Progetto Comune, and Roberto De Blasi and Lorenzo Masi of M5S, ready to authenticate the signatures in order to file them with the City Council which will rule on whether the questions have been approved for a referendum, a process that should be complete within two months.
“The goal is to reach 10,000 signatures,” explained Massimo Torelli of Firenze Città Aperta, “because a sort of real estate bubble has been building up here for some time, with an ever-increasing rise in the price of houses and rents, while goods and services are increasingly tailor-made for tourists. This no longer applies to the historic center alone; there are whole parts of the city destined to become temporary residences.”
“In the meantime,” according to the promoters and supporters of the referendums, including Imam Izzedin Elzir, Father Bernardo Gianni, Don Andrea Bigalli of Libera, Tommaso Fattori and Tomaso Montanari, “thousands of families cannot find a house to rent, and those who have won public competitions are giving up on their public sector jobs. The same goes for out-of-town students, as the price of a luxury student residence has climbed up to €2,000 a month. The rents of private homes are getting higher and higher, and, as a result, rents for businesses are going up as well.”
The initiative is intended to grow “from below,” without being connected to an election campaign, in an attempt to leave room for other political forces and associations to band together behind the goal of 10,000 signatures: “The rich of the world are buying up Florence,” the referendum campaigners denounce, “and to even think of saving the city by investing in temporary residences and without a real role for the public is, in the best-case scenario, only an illusion.” An illusion that results in the progressive exclusion of many Florentines from residing in the city, who cannot cope with the exponential growth in housing costs and rents.