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Social Housing in Europe


Brussels, 27 March 2010 | Published in Research

What is social housing?

An official definition of social housing in Italy has been provided for the first time in 2008. Social housing consists mainly of dwellings rented on a permanent basis; also to be considered as social housing are dwellings built or rehabilitated through public and private contribution or the use of public funding, rented for at least eight years and also sold at affordable price, with the goal of achieving social mix.

Social rental housing currently represents about the 4% of the national housing stock. There are three main types of publicly supported housing: subsidised housing (edilizia sovvenzionata), assisted housing (edilizia agevolata) and agreed housing (edilizia convenzionata).

Who provides social housing?

The public sector is mainly represented by the former IACP, created in the 1903 as public bodies and now transformed into autonomous public agencies with different legal statutes. They own and/or manage public housing stock, and their activities are targeted to low income households.

Municipalities own social rental dwellings, and in some cases they also manage them directly. In terms of the size of the public sector, although over a million dwellings were built in the post war period, the public social rented sector never grew significantly larger, because large segments of the stock are continuously being sold off. Housing cooperatives and other private providers have been involved in the provision of social housing since 1978.

How is social housing financed?

Financing is provided by the Regions. Municipalities together with the Regions co-finance personal aids for the rental sector, and allocate land to providers. The central government is responsible for macro-programming and co-financing of projects through housing allowances, co-funding of urban renewal programmes and programmes to support social rental housing.

Most recently, the National Housing Plan set the basis for new forms of public/private partnerships, through the creation of an integrated real estate fund consisting of a national fund and a network of local revolving funds dedicated primarily to financing social housing. Few such funds have been so far implemented but this financing modality represents a real revolution but also a challenge, particularly for the public sector.

Who can access social housing?

Social housing in Italy has a mission of general interest in “safeguarding social cohesion, to reduce the housing problems of disadvantaged people and families who are unable to access housing in the open market”. Regions have the responsibility to define the requirements for access to social housing as well as rules for setting rents. In the case of public social housing, the eligibility is based on a set of criteria for registration in waiting lists in all Italian regions. These are income of the applicants; address  and nationality. Priority in accessing social housing is given to people in bad living condition, family with several children or to people experiencing enforced cohabitation.

Recent Developments

Due to cuts to local budgets and the consequent need to increase financial means at the municipal level, the exemption from the municipal tax on real residential property applied to social rental housing is most likely to be eliminated. At the same time, both in the public and private sector, the phenomenon of rent arrears is increasing due to the general impoverishment of Italian families.

If we add to this the fact that the current system for rent setting in the social rental sector is based on the households’ income, it is clear that the public rental sector will have to sustain increasing expenditures while income from rents will be reduced. Furthermore, the possibility of raising money through the sale of public stock is currently very limited due to the financial crisis.