Context Housing

Housing in Italy

Upholding the fundamental right to access to housing for Third Country Nationals is a central aspect of integration governance.



Upholding the fundamental right to access to housing for Third Country Nationals (TCNs) is a central aspect of integration governance. The right to decent and adequate housing is enshrined in international human rights law and is configured as a central expression of human dignity that goes far beyond satisfying material needs. It is in fact an expression and instrument for the personal development and autonomy of each individual. The availability of decent accommodation is also very important in order to enjoy other rights as it is one of the requirements for obtaining a residence permit, a job or for family reunification.

In accordance with international standards, all foreign citizens present on the Italian territory are holders of the right to housing. The Italian Constitution mentions the right to housing in art. 47.2, where the Republic is given the task of promoting access to housing also through social support measures.
As done for other areas of intervention, it is the Consolidated Law on Immigration (TUI) that frames the access to housing for TCNs, guaranteeing also that foreigners respecting specific requirements have the right to access, on equal terms with Italian citizens, to public residential housing and to the mediation services of social agencies, that facilitate access to housing and subsidized credit. In all these areas on action, State, Regions and Municipalities play a role.   

For what specifically concerns TCNs claiming asylum and those who were granted international protection, housing is expected to be provided directly or indirectly by the State during the examination of the asylum claim so as to meet immediate needs. Following the recognition of international protection, access to housing support and to the real estate market for international protection holders (IPHs) is governed by the same rules in force for non-EU citizens and on equal terms with Italian citizens, while an additional period of reception in the specific system for IPHs is granted if required.   

Generally speaking, in Italy, the availability of decent and adequate housing has got worse with the years. In the span of a decade, from 2001 to 2010, the number of individuals in severe housing deprivation has tripled in the country, despite the fact that about 72% of the national population owns the house in which they live in and that the number of existing apartments/houses is higher than the total number of families officially resident in Italy.
Large metropolitan areas are those in which housing problems are concentrated, but rural areas are not exempt from phenomena of social exclusion, ghettoisation and housing emergency.

For what concerns rent and other housing solutions, they constitute a residual portion of the real estate assets: just 15.8% of the total housing stock is available to be rent on the private market, while 2.7% is related to public residential housing (ERP) or social rent.

In this context, housing problems affect 11.1% of the population against a European average of 5.6%.
According to a research of Cittalia in 2013, (the research foundation of ANCI – National Association of Italian Municipalities), “One out of every two foreigners […] experiences housing problems: difficulties in paying the mortgage or rent, overcrowding, promiscuity”; in addition, an ISTAT survey conducted in 2014 in 154 Italian municipalities revealed that 58.2% of homeless people are of foreign origin.  

In addition to the so-called housing emergency described above, TCNs face significant challenges in their path towards housing autonomy. Some of these challenges are related to structural factors and shared by all residents, including, particularly, housing unaffordability; supply/demand mismatch due to lack of housing in appealing areas and vacancies/empty houses in unattractive areas. Moreover, bottleneck in social housing varies widely depending on the specific Region/Municipality, waiting lists get longer daily and max income threshold and residence requirements need to be considered. 

On the other side, TCNs face additional challenges which are closely related to the integration process, including discrimination and anti-migrant sentiment (outright denial of accommodation, restrictive conditions/criteria to access social housing, opposition from neighbours), unemployment and job insecurity, difficult access to specialized information services (language barriers, unawareness of and/or inaccessibility to relevant information), as well as other situations of socio-economic segregation, the transition out of the reception system for what specifically concerns International Protection Holders (IPHs), possible eviction and socio-spatial segregation.  

More specifically, according to a recent research carried out by IOM in 2019, concerning “Access to housing for International Protection Holders”, distrust or discrimination by potential landlords is the main obstacle in the path towards housing autonomy.
In particular, discrimination is often of an ethnic nature and is independent from the economic condition or income of potential tenants.
This aspect is also reflected in real estate agencies that are often unwilling to act as intermediaries for potential TCN tenants. The networks of acquaintances or compatriots therefore make up for the lack of other channels for finding rented accommodation.

Another critical issue is the shortage of rental housing and the high costs. Rental accommodation is very difficult to find or very expensive, especially in large cities. With this in mind, the research highlighted the presence of large unused and decaying real estate in small towns, and the absorption of many properties by tourist reception activities.
Moreover, job insecurity remains a significant barrier: although TCNs are largely income-producing, they often have weak or short-term contracts. Economic availability is therefore completely insufficient to be able to sustain a rent, especially in large urban centres or in areas with higher employment potential. This feeds the risk of inadequate housing conditions, marginality and segregation. 

The barriers to housing autonomy expose TCNs to the risk of living in conditions of continuous precarity and marginalization or in informal settlements. In addition, those who find themselves in precarious or informal housing solutions often cannot obtain the residence registration (iscrizione anagrafica) and, consequently, access the services related to it (e.g. family reunification); the same happens to TCNs with undeclared housing contracts.

Particular attention needs to be given to a specific vulnerable group such as undocumented migrants who cannot access housing programs and are often excluded from the emergency housing systems; moreover, their absence from residence registers leads to an underestimation of the housing problems of TCNs in the country.

Given the scarcity of public resources provided for housing in recent years, alongside the traditional ERP offer which unfortunately remain of marginal importance, as well as lease support measures, a series of innovative tools have emerged, at the disposal of the municipalities, capable of adapting to the specific socio-economic contexts and responding better also to the qualitative needs related to housing.
The vast and varied set of these innovative tools can be indicated with the generic name of Social Housing (SH); these initiatives are both promoted and funded by public authorities, the third sector, as well as the private sector, such as philanthropic foundations, banks and private citizens.
However, the projects are mostly small in size and concentrated in few regions. As a result, since 2014 some measures have been adopted to support the provision of low-rent housing regulated by specific agreements at the local level which provide tax relief and guarantees to private landlords if they apply low/intermediate rents.    

In order to address the housing needs of TCNs, therefore, the design of future policies and interventions aimed at improving their access to housing shall take into consideration the obstacles mentioned above and the possible solutions implemented to overcome them, starting with addressing the integration trilemma (coordinate policies on housing, employment and services); mainstreaming of social inclusion policies (adopt more general housing measures that benefit larger segments of the population); partnership-based approach (ensure multi-level collaboration, including the EU, member states, cities, universities, NGOs, etc.).


According to the data reported by the National Institute of Health (Istituto Superiore di Sanità, ISS), as of April 2020, 5.1% of the infected population was represented by TCNs. Despite this little percentage, the Covid-19 pandemic showed clearly how social inequalities are even more exacerbated in difficult times. In particular, at its outbreak, the pandemic hardly hit those with precarious or inexistent housing, such as guests of the extraordinary reception centers (CAS) or hotspots, those in informal settlements and homeless, thus resulting in their  inability to self-isolate and maintain physical distance, and so comply with the preventive measures required by law.   

Concerning the specific measures that the Government adopted in order to protect migrants, the first one worth to be mentioned is the extension of all residence permits and other key documents, all pre-requisites for accessing the financial support measures established.  The same extension was guaranteed also to the permanency in reception centres for the asylum seekers and the international protection holders hosted who were supposed to exit the reception system during the lockdown; in this direction, the municipalities were granted the permission of including in the SIPROIMI Centres, in case of required self-isolation or quarantine, the most fragile and vulnerable groups of the population in housing emergency, including TCNs.
In addition, according to the so-called “Cura Italia” Decree, evictions were suspended until the 30th of June 2020, and so as the payment of mortgages on first houses for a period up to 18 months.

As the residence registration (iscrizione anagrafica) is a key requirement to enjoy all forms of support, including the grocery and food vouchers guaranteed, homeless people were invited to provide as their personal address for the residence registration one belonging to a local association, a dormitory or the fictitious street provided by the Municipalities targeting specifically this vulnerable group. 

Together with the national benefits, some Regions provided additional financial support for rent; it was the case, for example, of the Lazio Region, which established a Fund with this purpose, to which TCNs residing in the Region could apply for. The same measures were adopted by a number of Municipalities, including Turin and Milan. The latter, opened a “Covid-19 hotel” where people with precarious or difficult housing situations or homeless could stay for free in case of required quarantine; the project was possible thanks to the financial support of the private sector.  

Together with the reception and financial measures mentioned above, the majority of the efforts were made towards the communication in different languages of the existing support actions: targeted messages circulated, most of them published on the Regions’ and Municipalities’ websites, together with free-toll numbers to call in case of questions. Crucial support in this direction was provided by the third sector, as well as international organizations.   

As the period of financial benefits enjoyment finish and the economic recession and loss of jobs worsened, the insecurity and consequent housing emergency deteriorated.
Moreover, according to a recent analysis, although the availability of houses for rent increased as an effect of the pandemic, this hasn’t led to a decrease in the rent prices yet, making leases unaffordable for a lot of people, including TCNs.
In addition to this, the pandemic shifted the attention from previous key areas of intervention to the emergency situation: as long as the structural factors mentioned in the previous section, as well as the other challenges that TCNs face in accessing housing are not addressed, starting with discrimination and anti-migrant sentiment, it’s easy to predict that the situation could only deteriorate further.  

Regional focus

The overall situation of Tuscany regarding access to housing for TCNs is similar to the national one. According to the results of the research “Uneven opportunities. Immigrants and public residential housing in Tuscany”, commissioned by the Department for Welfare and Housing Policies of the Tuscany Region, as immigration in the Region turned residential over the years, the need for local authorities to promote housing integration interventions that favor immigrants’ housing autonomy increased. 

Initially, in fact, immigration was predominantly female and connected to the domestic work sector: women placed in this work environment used to reside with the family which they worked for. Then the possibility of family reunification has increased the range of stable immigration, contributing to expanding the need for housing integration. The research also revealed a specular data between Italian houseowners, 80 out of 100, and immigrants, 20 out of 100. The vast majority of TCNs therefore lived in rent: 45% with autonomous accommodation, and 20% in cohabitation or accommodation provided by the employer. Although the gap is still significant, it is a rapidly evolving condition: in 2007 only 12.3% of foreigners lived in their own home, while 64% used rental arrangements.  

For what concerns public housing tenders, the presence of TCNs has been increasing over the last decade. In Florence, for example, it went from 13.5% in 2000 to 43% in 2010. However, immigrants’ access to ERP was proved to be more difficult than for Italians and deeply depending on the specific Municipality. After 2008, the already difficult income situation of TCNs worsened, with a consequent increase in precarious housing solutions and episodes of eviction; moreover, cases of inadequate or overcrowded accommodation and cohabitation remained decidedly more frequent than for Italians. Finally, informal or precarious living is an interstitial phenomenon and usually not very visible, therefore difficult to quantify.    


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