Coralli Project: A Multicultural European Network for the Right to Housing


There is an influx of immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe in Italy. In Europe some 71 million people are poorly housed and approximately 5 million are homeless, many of whom are immigrants. There exists a problem of social segregation or apartheid in housing. Difficulties in the acceptance of immigrants in cities are linked to cultural differences between the native population and immigrants. In addition, a number of urban policies have been implemented without taking into account their social consequences. There is serious segregation in housing due to speculation, public and increasing social exclusion – all of which do not allow immigrants the freedom to choose their place of residence. This provokes false competition and discrimination between immigrants and native populations in terms of relative access to public housing. This has led to recent headline events in Europe; the collapse of housing in precarious conditions, fires in shelters in Germany, the destruction of entire blocks of improvised housing in Italy, immigrant camps in Paris, street people all over Europe, tenants paying unreasonably high rents, forced evictions, injustice in the provision of low-cost housing, and racial discrimination in the private rental market.Project Description

The project was initiated in 1991 in Padova, Italy in order to fight against segregation in housing and defend the right to housing. It was founded by the Unione Inquilini (tenants union) which is a national housing rights organization. There are two main initiatives of Project Coralli, the first of which is referred to as the DAR-Genoa Cooperative which seeks to acquire housing for the poor by renting apartments from the private sector and sub-renting them to the poor. The second is the Coralli Cooperative which is an interethnic project in Padova involving self-construction and renovation through agreements with public institutions. This study will analyze the DAR-Genoa Cooperative.

Actors involved

The DAR-Cooperative is a partnership between the Regional Federation for work and Solidarity and the municipal government of Genoa. Genoa is a traditional industrial city, a principle port of northeastern Italy, which was especially hard-hit by the restructuring of the 1980s. It has a large immigrant population, especially in the downtown historical district. Genoa serves as a first step for immigrants in Italy because it is a port; it is the large city near the French-Italian boarder (the entrance into Europe from French-speaking Africa); and there are few work opportunities due to industrial and commercial decline.

This project involves a social immobiliar (socially owned and controlled real estate operation) whose purpose is to ensure the fulfillment of the right to housing for immigrants. The cooperative operates principally in the down town historic district and in the western zone of Genoa.Unique Features Having an Impact on the Partnership

The European Union involves free trade and free movement of people, but there is no consideration for social rights, and specifically, housing policy. Each country has its own policy, and regional coordination is limited to informal meetings between Housing Ministers. In Italy, housing is considered to be an investment, and only marginally a social right. Some of the problems include evictions upon the expiration of rental contracts. The principle that there should be no evictions without due cause does not exist. Rent control laws have only led to a dividing of the real estate market into legal and illegal markets. In addition, there are no housing allowances or other subsidies to offset the cost of housing for the poor.

According to Italian law, mayors are responsible for the health of their citizens. This has been used as leverage to pressure for programs and policies on the municipal level. The Regional Federation for Work and Solidarity represents an institution of self-organization on the part of the non-profit sector. It is a grassroots support organization. This project brings together almost all voluntary and private community-based organizations, as well as business and labour organizations.

Lessons Learned

The first agreement between DAR-Genoa and the municipal government resulted in support for two programs of the Cooperative. Five apartments which were public property were rehabilitated, and the Cooperative located five apartments in the private market to use as half-way houses for immigrants, to be rented by them for one or two years. One hundred forty-thousand dollars (US) was designated by the municipality for seeking and managing apartments, rental expenses, and a reserve fund to be used in case of delayed payments and for future investments in housing.

From 1991 to 1993, there were 490 requests for the cooperatives services, 83 percent of which were from non-Italians. The largest proportions were from Senegalese and Moroccan citizens which represent the most recent migratory flow. Most applicants were women, often single with children.

The Cooperative had difficulties in its attempts to rent apartments in the private market. If found difficulties in combining social effectiveness with economic efficiency. Because this project involves a real estate agency which is supported only marginally by public funding the social nature of the project has been emphasized to the detriment of economic aspects. There is a 20 percent rate of late payment, and this makes it necessary to use public funds and private donations. There are problems achieving a political consensus involving local government and the cooperative. The local government is sensitive to the unpopularity (with certain segments of the population) of actions favouring foreign citizens.

One of the most significant outcomes of the partnership was its success in identifying the social needs of a population that had been largely ignored. The partnership found that ethnic minorities experienced isolation and a lack of respect for their culture which was apparent in housing practices. The partnership also drew attention to the lack of effective national policies which govern housing.