32.1. Short description
The project has been developed by a very small cooperative, the Cooperative Scalabrini Bonomelli. The cooperative was born in 1990 as a building cooperative, acknowledging migrants’ needs voiced out in the Brescia Diocese Secretariat for Migrants8 (“Segretariato Migranti della Diocesi di Brescia”) from 1981 onwards. The cooperative’s mission was, from the beginning, to find housing solutions for migrants (which, in those years, arrived quite massively to Brescia), assuming that this could be a good starting point to support their autonomy and their social inclusion in the hosting city9. The cooperative had the aim of creating conditions of social inclusion for migrants, avoiding the development of neighbourhoods inhabited by migrants only. Furthermore, the cooperative was born to increase the “cooperative spirit” (in the sense of working and participating in cooperative activities) in migrants, present not only as members of the cooperative but also in the directory board. The cooperative worked on identifying apartments, restructuring them and then renting them to migrants, also encouraging autonomy and the social and economic growth of dwellers.
In 2005, the cooperative transformed itself from a building cooperative to a social cooperative to pluralise their activities, focusing also on prevention and interventions in case of migrant hardship. The cooperative has many relationships with public agencies and with the local church.
The project “Una casa in più” was developed in 2003/2005 thanks to a special regional programme that financed housing solutions for migrants. The migrants officer of Brescia at that time invited the cooperative to participate in the call for developing something that had already been experienced in Bergamo by a very big migrant housing cooperative, “Casa Amica”, whose good projects have been copied by others in Lombardy across the years. The Bergamo cooperative also responded to the call. The idea was to identify apartments that could be rented to migrants with long contracts of 10 + 10 years with the formula “patto di future vendita” (“rent to buy”) in order to permit them to have a good accommodation, to pay rents below market prices and to have the opportunity to buy the dwelling at the end of the period.
The project has been appreciated pretty much by academics working with migration issues and who were quite influential in regional decision-making. Even if the first evaluation of the Lombardy region was negative, at the end the cooperative Scalabrini Bonomelli received 500,000 euros to develop the project through the participation to the call by the municipality of Brescia.
The cooperative identified fifteen apartments to devote to the project, half of them to let at normal rents, and the other half with the rent-to-buy formula. Monthly rents were and are around 500 euros (canone convenzionato), and the price to pay at the end of the 20 years, transforming dwellers into homeowners, around 1,500-3,000 euros. This rent value incorporates also a capital part (to buy the dwelling month by month) and is higher than normal rents applied by the cooperative. As a matter of fact, one of the goals of the cooperative was to generate a consistent cash flow to invest in other similar projects.
32.2. Conceptions of and ways of addressing users
The project has been considered as very innovative because for the first time migrants where targeted as possible buyers of houses through contracts that permit them to rent for 20 years paying a sum that is, in part, an anticipation of capital. The project acknowledged that migrants would stay for long years in the city, would adopt in the middle term the same housing strategies as Italians (be homeowners) and that they would need stable housing accommodation.
Thanks to the window of opportunity presented by regional funding, this formula could be applied to migrants. The latent aim of the project was also to make dwellers more responsible for payment of rent and for the good maintenance of the cooperative housing stock. Migrants, once inserted into cooperative dwellings, tended to assume that they had a “right” to them, without respecting duties attached to the possession of a home. This project permitted to some extent the reversion of this behaviour, clarifying with dwellers, and potentially future owners, the terms of their insertion in the housing stock.
32.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The project “Una casa in più” in some way changed the way of working because it inaugurated this small but crucial activity of supporting migrants in their way to homeownership. The cooperative had to structure its capacity to interact with banks and funding stakeholders, as well as supporting migrants in accessing credit opportunities.
32.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The project has been financed by the Lombardy region with 500,000 euros. The cooperative has been invited by Brescia municipality to participate to the regional call and had to work with it to prepare its candidacy. Afterwards relationships had been very weak, and no special support has been given by the local stakeholder to the project or to the cooperative, which continues to insert very slowly migrants into the public housing stock, facing all the problems related to the scarcity of housing opportunities. In other words, the project “Una casa in più” did not create better conditions for the cooperative activities in the following years and the project has not been replicated by the cooperative or by the Municipality.
The principal critical aspects of the project are related to its timing, not to the main ideas of it. At the beginning of the 2000s, migrant home ownership rates were almost double (22 per cent) than current ones (12 per cent), they were the highest in Italy. So the project was well contextualised, aiming to support stabilisation of migrants in the city through an assisted pattern to homeownership. The project contemplates a very long period to rent and then buy, 20 years, which from one side was the necessary base to permit people to buy their own dwelling, but from the other side creates uncertainty attached to changes over a long period, especially in the migrants’ lives. In the last 5 years, the scenario changed pretty much. Many migrants are going back to their countries of origin. Not all the apartments destined to be bought with the 20-years renting formula have been allocated, because this span of time has been considered too long at that time by potential dwellers. Originally, eight apartments were devoted to the rent/buy formula, but two of them have at the end been devoted to normal rent.