University students protest against high rents

Student protesters of the "Cambiare rotta." Photo: Il Fatto Quotidiano

 ROME -- The student-organized group, "Cambiare rotta," or "Changing course," has begun a national protest against high rents as students pitch tents in front of universities in regions throughout Italy, demanding fairer housing regulations, said Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper. 

 The students brought four requests to the university ministry last week, including the abolition of law 431/98, or the Italian lease contract, and the reintroduction of 'fair rent'. They also requested the conversion of vacant buildings and the establishment of a permanent fund specifically for public students of at least 40 million euros. 

 "The murky promises received from the government are not enough for us, just as we are not willing to accept the hypocritical attempts to exploit the protests by the opposition" reads the appeal, which was signed by more than 120 students along with activists and trade unionists from Asia Usb and the movement for the right to housing.

 The murky promises refer to the 660 million euros that were allocated last Thursday by the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (Pnrr). The group expects much of the funding to end up with private groups, pushing public students to the side. 

 The students' appeal was addressed "to all the students who are mobilizing throughout Italy and to all the social realities that have been fighting for the right to housing for years, to forge alliances and broaden the mobilization." 

 "We are not willing to accept that the attention raised on this issue remains limited to the specific students,° the group explains. "This battle must now generalize and join the many that have been building struggles and initiatives throughout the country for years for the right to housing, silenced instead by the media and ignored by local governments and institutions.

 It is for this reason, they state, that the group launched their appeal and mobilization event on Tuesday to °represent the voice and the demands of not just students, but of young people, workers, the unemployed and the working class, and of those who are no longer willing to pay for the crisis." 

 So far, the university ministry has made some steps, including the launching of the procedure to map vacant properties to be used for housing or university residences. This should reach the target of 52,500 new beds with the implementation of the Pnrr funding. Private entities, religious bodies, municipalities, regions and provinces have 60 days, until July 11, to make accomodations such as hotels, monasteries, and clubs available to be converted into student housing. 

 Secretary of the Italian Left, Nicola Fratoianni, criticized the group's cause, stating that "the State provides for a 15% reduction in the rent, a no brainer, but guarantees to private individuals that the income from the rents is tax-free, just as it guarantees that these beds are available for 9 years."

 "They ensure a certain and safe market for at least 9 years for a group of private individuals, after the 3 years guaranteed by the 660 million of the Pnrr," he said. 

 Other government leaders, including the president of the Five Star Movement, Giuseppe Conte, claims that the 660 million allocated by Pnrr °should not be wasted.° 

 Puglia's regional councilor for education, Sebastiano Leo, stated in a letter that °it is esssential that the direction of the interventions in the field of university residences and the services available to students remain public," signifying the divide among citizens and politicians on the issue.