Reportage. The privatization of public housing by welfare agencies is gentrifying Magliana. ‘You can't feel safe in a space where you don't know how long you will stay.’

In Rome, a neighborhood is facing eviction because of a state program gone wrong

“That’s them,” Federica says, pointing to photos on an old cabinet at the entrance to the apartment in Rome’s Magliana neighborhood. One shows her mother sitting on stone steps, smiling; another shows her brother and another her father. None of the three are alive. Before she died, her mother had received an eviction order. During the pandemic, the legal proceedings had stalled. Later, when the court reopened the case, the eviction proceedings continued against her daughter.

“I’ve dealt with so many things, but I can’t deal with this one”: her words sounded like a desperate plea. The apartment lay empty for five months before Federica moved in in May 2022. The apartment is located on the fifth of eight floors. From the window, all one can see is a bare brick wall, green window shutters and laundry hanging on the balconies. There is very little space between buildings.

Federica is 46 years old, lives alone and works as a house cleaner. She was born and raised in Magliana, in a council house near where she lives now. Her childhood was difficult. After finishing school, she moved to Ostia to work in a bakery. In 2003 she returned to Magliana to move in with her boyfriend. After they separated, she moved to the apartment where her father used to live. Finally, she moved into the one that had belonged to her mother: “In spite of everything that happened to me, the house was still there.”

Both her father’s and mother’s apartments are owned by the National Social Security Institute (INPS). The INPS owns 7,000 properties throughout Italy, 80 percent of which are in Rome. Hundreds are located in Magliana.

“The original idea was that social security would work in two ways: preserving workers’ savings and, as a result, also preserving their assets,” explains Stefano Portelli, a researcher in Urban Anthropology at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. In post-World War II Italy, public welfare agencies invested nearly a third of their assets in real estate. “Houses were considered a safe asset,” Portelli continues, “which is why much of their real estate is in Rome, because the capital’s market is solid.”

The apartments are classified as rent-controlled, which is different from social housing: “Rent-controlled housing was intended for the social classes who didn’t fit the requirements to enter social housing and also didn’t have the financial means to buy a house on the private market. Or those who get evicted,” says Franco Moretti, a Magliana resident and longtime activist in the Magliana Non Si Sfratta (“Magliana Will Not Be Evicted”) Committee (now retired for health and family reasons). “What is now a part of INPS used to be INPDAI. The state agency invested the employees’ social security contributions and bought houses to accumulate assets that were supposed to be, in essence, a pension fund.”

The National Welfare Institute for Managers of Industrial Companies (INPDAI) was a state agency that managed the pensions of company directors. It merged with the INPS in 2003, and the apartments that INPDAI owned passed to the latter.

Around the mid-1990s, European governments started the process of divesting real estate assets owned by social security institutions. The long and complex sale operation, which is still ongoing, has gone through several legislative stages. Each of these has had a direct impact on the lives of those living in INPS-owned apartments.

Silvia, who lives in a sixth-floor apartment on Via Pescaglia, knows this very well: “I was born in Magliana in 1975. My parents lived in the Cortilone, a complex of occupied buildings on this same street.” Silvia, like Federica, is a child from a working-class neighborhood. Her father was a pastry chef, her mother a housewife. Her older sister started working after middle school. She did so right after getting her degree. In 1997, she moved with her husband to the house where she still lives: “I’ve always paid for everything, it’s a matter of civil coexistence.”

As the result of a regularization process, she became the official tenant: “In 2022, I got the proposal to buy the house. A month before the documents were to be finalized, I was informed through an email that the discounts under Paragraph 20 would not be applied, because I was not listed as official tenant in 1999.”

Silvia is referring to a subsection of Law 410 of 2001 on the “privatization and exploitation of public real estate and development of real estate investment trusts.” Paragraph 20 provides for a discount of at least 30 percent on the sale of public real estate to official tenants who have expressed their willingness to purchase before October 31, 2001. In the absence of such a letter sent at the time, the sale is made at the market price, which, as in Silvia’s case, also takes into account the discounts provided for the tenant’s or occupant’s right of first refusal, but does not include the further price reductions granted by Law 410.

This makes an enormous difference: for the mere fact that a registered letter was sent (or recorded) or not almost a generation ago, tenants are at the mercy of market price fluctuations and retroactively applied sales laws. In 2017, INPS signed an agreement that the market price of properties would be set by the Real Estate Market Observatory (OMI), a part of the Revenue Agency.

OMI sets real estate prices based exclusively on location. “OMI will tell you that an old building in Magliana is worth just as much as a building that was built nowadays and doesn’t show any degradation like the INPS buildings where we live.” Unfortunately, because of Paragraph 20 of Law 410 and the new sale price, even though Silvia did send the registered letter expressing her willingness to buy before October 31, 2001, she still cannot afford to buy the house: “We only have my husband’s paycheck, who is a bricklayer. The bank won’t give us the mortgage.”

According to Law 410, when the official tenants are unable to buy, the house must be put up for auction. Silvia has taken part in a survey by the USB – Tenants and Residents Association (ASIA USB) union, which has proposed that the Municipality of Rome should purchase the homes being disposed of by social security agencies.

Both Federica and Silvia continue to participate in the public protests that committees and groups of tenants facing eviction are organizing in the capital. “This neighborhood, Magliana, will no longer exist,” Federica says. “We who were born and raised here will no longer be here. It will be only the people who can afford to buy.”

The privatization of public housing by welfare agencies is gentrifying Magliana. Working class people are finding themselves in an increasingly precarious housing situation, while the rents in Rome continue to rise. ASIA USB estimates that residents of some 400-500 INPS-owned apartments in Rome are now facing eviction. The waiting, uncertainty, bureaucracy and shortcuts taken by the public institution, which is de facto acting like a private company, are leading to fear and confusion.

Chiara Cacciotti, an activist, anthropologist and researcher with the Inhabiting Radical Housing project at the Polytechnic University of Turin, tells us: “Your home should be the place where you feel safe. But not in the sense of security from thieves or criminals. That is securitization. You can’t feel safe in a space where you don’t know how long you will stay. You don’t know if your life plans will include the house you live in. You don’t have a network of relationships to support you.”

*This report was produced as part of the Lelio and Lisli Basso Foundation’s School of Journalism.

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