A future, based on the past, and built on collaboration and shared ownership, is gaining ground in Bologna. ‘Porto 15’ is the first public housing in Italy dedicated to people under 35 years old and one of the first in Italy to be realized by initiative of the public administration alone. Given that in Italy around 67% of this age group lives with their parents, this represents a real social innovation. In total, 18 apartments (about 45 beds) were renovated in a building belonging to the city council and located in the historic city centre. Each floor of the modernised building now contains shared service and spaces. By working with the young people, who pay a lower than average rent, via the creation of a ‘charter of values’, which set out an agreement of what is to be expected, both the municipality and the local community benefit.
The Italian cooperative movement, which saw people grouping themselves together to have more say on economic and social matters, can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century. Bologna was home to many such cooperatives and in 1884, when workers from a tobacco company banded together, it gave birth to one of the first dedicated exclusively to housing.Although this model of community organisation was halted during the fascist era, the post-war period has witnessed cooperatives blooming anew. “With the cooperative model, we are still living this idea of Bologna,” says Silvia Calastri, who is employed in the public housing policy office for the city. “Now we would like this to be more spread, as it was before.”
With rental costs having spiked dramatically by almost ten percent in Bologna last year, housing is an issue more on the agenda than ever, and even the city’s mayor has recognised the urgency of the current housing crisis. In part, this is still due to the longer term effects of the economic crisis, in part this is to do with other influences such as Airbnb – which reduces the available stock of housing for long term rentals. Following the economic crisis, the city signed the Evictions Protocol, which recognises that the loss of a job as a result of the financial and economic crisis is a legitimate reason for not being able to make rent payments. Building on national level legislation, the city is now involved in supporting families who receive eviction notices.
Bologna is now the first place in Italy to establish a definition on what cooperative housing actually means – and this includes an agreement by those receiving housing to organise activities that give back to the community.This sense of a community, harking back to ideas within the recent cultural history of the city, is something that has peaked the interest of other Bolognese. It marks a clear “turning point” in people’s perception of cooperative housing and has inspired the municipality to make a call for private or citizens’ initiatives to refit unused buildings owned by the city for exactly this purpose.
The new cooperatives movement links into one of the broader, ongoing aims of the city – to requalify its public areas. By being citizen-led, with the residents from housing cooperatives choosing areas to work on, Calastri says “it’s interesting to see how people get involved in these projects led by cooperatives and to see how from nothing starts a community of residents.”
Another popular aspect of this collaborative model, that brings extra benefits to the surrounding community, is that the agreement made by Porto 15’s residents includes a commitment to give something back to the local community, by organising activities. For example, tenants might set up a homework club, or do something ecological such as caring for public gardens.
The city wants to share its ideas with other cities, and has already started a fruitful collaboration with Barcelona to develop a shared model on cooperative housing. A dialogue between different cities in Europe to learn from each other is highly motivated to follow up on the project and to see possible adaptation.