Protests against expensive rents spread in Italy causing tension between the government and the student unions

Students protesting in Bari

Rome- The protests against the high rents in cities with a large number of University students are spreading in Italy. 

 What started as a student in a tent in front of Milan’s Polytechnic University has turned into large protests in eight major Italian cities including Milan, Pavia, Padua, Venice, Bologna, Perugia, Florence, and Rome. Bari is among the newest to join the fight denouncing the housing crisis and outrageous rise in rental fees according to the Udu student trade union. 

 In Milan, on average, a single room costs 628 euros a month, in Bologna 467, and in Rome 452, according to Fdi Statistics, rates that are unaffordable to the average student according to.

 Turin and Cagliari had also recently seen tents pop up around the city as part of the protests, but these have since been dismantled and discarded. 

 This has not discouraged students however as students in Trento have announced that they will start protesting with tents this Friday. 

 The high number of protests has managed to catch the government’s attention and has incited the government to seek a solution for the unhappy students. 

 The president of the M5s Giuseppe Conte and the secretary of the Democratic Party Elly Schlein spoke at Sapienza University in Rome about the protests. Conte commented that he appreciated "peaceful and democratic" protest and maintained that the 5-star Movement was "ready to do everything possible" to solve the issue. 

 Schlein also addressed the issue, and guaranteed that the Democratic Party would insist on "greater resources for the right to study" and showed doubt towards the promises announced by the government to create an additional 52,500 beds nationwide by 2026 as she anticipates any funds will likely go towards the private market rather than cause structural change, that would actually change the rent realities for University students right now. 

 Giuseppe Valditara, the Minister of Education has also commented on the high rents, saying that it is due to the incompetence of center-left governance in the cities that rents are now unaffordable. 

Minister of University and Research, Anna Maria Bernini showed her irritation towards Schlein’s comment, explaining that “The search for a contrast with the local administrations is counterproductive to the achievement of an effective and shared solution" and that Valditara “legitimately expressed his opinions, but my line remains that of dialogue. My polar star is the students”. 

 She also defended the government's current proposal saying that: “with an expression of interest we will identify the available properties. To meet demand we have to increase supply, that's indisputable. And the collaboration with private individuals, foreseen by the Pnrr is indispensable. We will assign the properties to those who will guarantee, at the lowest cost, and with the greatest number of beds for the children who are entitled to them". 

 Bernini also alluded that Schlein’s speech was performative and nothing more than a political campaign announcing that “there are those who campaign with and on the students' tents and those who solve the problem. This government just one month after taking office, has allocated near to 1 billion euros to the right to study: 500 million for scholarships and 400 for new beds”. The 500 million are allocated for 2024-2025 and the remaining 400 is meant to reintegrate the funds of law 338/2000 for the construction and renovation of university residences.

 Bernini and Valditara’s statements were not received positively by Camilla Piredda, coordinator of the Udu trade union, who responded to the statements by saying  "Minister Valditara's statements made us very angry because they indicated a policy unable to meet its objectives", and that due to the lack of accountability by Meloni’s Ministers, she intends on continuing the protests.

 The student union also insists on actually being part of the resolution and has requested a seat at the table where the discussions take place. Piredda explained this decision and said that: “We have expressed all our concerns on how the resources of the Pnrr are being spent which are now going toward private student residences. How can you think that a mere 15 percent discount on the market fee can resolve this crisis? Instead, the famous 400 million euros, also mentioned today by Minister Bernini, are too few and have been frozen for months. If the Next Generation Eu really has to look out for the new generations, we would like to be involved and consulted. For this reason, we have asked for the opening of a national table to address the housing crisis.”

 The Unione degli Universitari has also announced that it is working on an in-depth investigation into how the resources of the Pnrr are actually being used and is planning a presentation with its findings "against Pnrr" to oppose the current proposal. 

  Alessandro Santoro who was team leader for the Ministry of Economy for Mission 4 during the definition phase of the Pnrr and is currently Pro-Rector for the budget and is currently delegate for the right to study for the University of Milan- Bicocca commented on the proposal saying “the reform provides for the allocation of 660 million to the benefit of private entities which, also in the agreement or in partnership with universities, make new beds available (…) The funding takes the form of a non-repayable grant to cover the management costs of the bed in the first three years, to which are added additional tax breaks.” He also requested collaboration starting from the state property, the Municipalities, and the mayors of the metropolitan areas" for "a census of unused properties so that they can be made available for students" according to Bernini. 

The president of the Culture and University Commission of the Chamber Federico Mollicone (FdI) and the group leader of FdI in the Commission, Alessandro Amorese, announced that they seek to find "a resolution" and will convene "the student associations and competent ministers, as well as the authorities of the local and of the Regions". They’ve admitted that “the problem "affects many Italian students throughout the nation", and say they recognize that "the issue" of the "complete realization of the right to study has been neglected up to now.

 In Milan, on average, a single room costs 628 euros a month, in Bologna 467, and in Rome 452, rates that are unaffordable to the average student.