Report. About 200,000 Italian families are already behind on their rent payments. Organizations are calling for an emergency fund to distribute rent subsidies.

Housing emergency: Pandemic lockdown and rent payments don’t mix

There is a conspicuous box left unticked in the list of measures taken by the Italian government to try to curb the economic emergency that is following on the heels of the health emergency. To be precise, it can be found next to the expenditure item “rents.” 

The “Cura Italia” decree makes no mention of the issue. So far, the political forces have looked at it only from afar. However, the problem concerns millions of people and is ready to explode into a crisis.

A petition promoted by Unione Inquilini (UI), Link Coordinamento Universitario, Rete della Conoscenza and Pensare Urbano, which was signed by dozens of associations, trade unions and local administrators in just a few hours, is asking the government to set up “an extraordinary fund with immediate disbursement for rent subsidies, to cover the expenses of tenants and all relevant categories, thus avoiding situations of non-payment.”

“The difficulties standing in the way of paying rent are growing rapidly,” says Massimo Pasquini, the national secretary of UI. “We’re getting dozens of messages from families who were already in a precarious condition and have become impoverished during this crisis, or lived in relative stability but have seen their economic income collapse.” 

According to the numbers published by the organization, there are 3.2 million Italian families who are living in private rental properties. The data from the Ministry of the Interior, the most recent dating back to 2018, shows that the number of court-mandated evictions is at around 55-60,000 per year on average. Ninety percent of these are for payment delinquency.

But what might happen in such times as we are experiencing now? No one can say exactly, but the estimates made by UI speak of 200,000 families already at risk of being in arrears on their rent through no fault of their own. Without effective support measures, this could trigger an avalanche of requests for new evictions, which, in any case, are currently suspended until June 30.

This issue also has a strong generational impact, especially as it directly concerns about 570,000 out-of-town university students. “The problem is a structural one: only 6% of out-of-towners have access to residences offered by right-to-study programs,” says Francesco Pellas of the Link student union. “In Milan, a single room costs €575 on average, and it’s over €450 in Rome. This is the backdrop for the current emergency: for some it means a contraction in family income, for others it means the loss of work which enabled them to pay the rent.” 

The signatories of the appeal are proposing that the government should already allocate €200-300 million with the decree on new economic measures to be passed in April.

Some are demanding stronger measures: “a freeze in rent and utility payments” is what the Associazione Inquilini e Abitanti (Tenants and Residents’ Association – ASIA) of the USB union is calling for. “The measures taken by the government do not guarantee a decent income for all, and leave many people without any income. At the same time, there is no lowering or freezing of rent payments,” ASIA writes. 

The organization has drawn up a standard form to inform one’s landlord about the impossibility of paying the rent and to ask them not to proceed with eviction. The initiative is linked to Rent Strike, the proposed protest involving the non-payment of rents which is set to take place in April in various countries around the world. Just like the virus, the rent issue is of a global character.

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