Keywords Search

35. Fondazione Housing Sociale

35.1. Short description

The Fondazione Housing Sociale (FHS) has been chosen as a case on innovation in housing policies in Milan even if its scope is regional and now, as will be explained, national. It is a pioneer experience that gave birth to the first ethical fund for social housing in Italy, anticipating ad hoc legislation and policymaking that has undergone a scaling-up process. It is considered to be a very interesting case by policymakers and by public and private stakeholders, because FHS expanded its activities since its creation and has been replicated around the country.

Here we will describe its genesis and development, focusing on a plurality of aspects, each of which can be considered as an innovation in local welfare, even if there are some critical aspects. So, the FHS will be presented as a whole, then we will focus on the description of the developed social funds, and, finally, we will illustrate very briefly some of the social housing projects launched by the foundation. Our analysis is based on interviews, internal and public reports, articles and other available materials on the web.

The FHS case has to be shortly contextualised. In the past years, a new form of social housing emerged in the Italian market. Contrary to what happens in other countries, until the beginning of the decade “social housing” was implicitly intended as the “public” component of this policy field. In many cities characterised by high housing or rehousing needs, many private housing initiatives have been developed to cope with (or to try to cope with) the scarcity of dwellings devoted to low and middle-low incomes, normally through the constitution of cooperatives and associations that promote self-building activities, buy and restructure private buildings for rent or sell at lower prices and get concessions from public agencies to remould and manage entire buildings with the same aim. Following local experiences, law 244/2007 defined a new typology of dwellings defined “residence of general interest destined to location”, non-luxurious real estate localised in municipalities with “high tension housing needs” and bound by contract to at least 25 years renting destination. The law introduces an important principle: dwellings destined to long-term renting, even if private, represent an economic service of general interest. They can be privileged by tax exemptions and by planning and economic support by public stakeholders (ANCI 2010).

One year later, The Ministero degli interni with the decree 22 April 2008, defined social dwelling (alloggio sociale) as “a unit for residential use in a permanent location aimed to reduce housing problems for individuals and disadvantaged families, who are not able to access to renting housing solutions in free market conditions”. The definition of “social housing“ in the decree is quite general and can be actuated through: the imposition of a minimum number of dwellings rented at a “fair rent“ for builders that use lands prior devoted to “standard services“; the free assignment of municipal land imposing the construction of dwellings only devoted to rent at fair values (in any case lower that private market rates) plus municipal urban tax exemptions and, last but not least, the involvement of private stakeholders that privilege ethic investment aims and accept lower returns on investment. (Baldini 2010; Plebani and Merotta 2011; Giaimo2011).

The issue of “social housing” is quite important in Milan because of needs pressure (there is an acute shortage of affordable dwellings in the city and the number of families that cannot afford to get into the private market is growing) and because it is one of the big cities where “trials of innovation” are taking place, thanks to the development of a web of stakeholders that are trying to promote public–private partnerships in order to enlarge the rental housing stock. Along with new stakeholders, traditional ones are involved in this effort.

35.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users

FHS was founded in 2004 by the Fondazione Cariplo, the largest “foundation with a bank origin” in Italy. These foundations are a kind of private, grant-making foundation specific to Italy, set in 199111. Fondazione Cariplo has addressed the issue of disadvantaged housing conditions since 1999, contributing to the realisation of housing projects dedicated to the weakest segments of the population (homeless people, ex-convicts and ex-drug-addicted), mainly through grants to third-sector organisations (Barbetta and Urbani 2007, Urbani 2009). Aware of the limited amount of resources available in the form of grants, the foundation decided to experiment with innovative financing instruments based on sustainability and ethical investments (and no longer on grants) to expand the range of social housing projects involving other public and private institutions and stakeholders. A feasibility study carried out by the Architecture and Planning Department of the Milan Polytechnic (DiAP) confirmed the potential of the ethical investment of proposal of Fondazione Cariplo. The initiative thus took concrete form in the social housing programme and the creation of the Fondazione Housing Sociale, instituted to implement the programme itself.

The social housing programme has a dual identity, according to institutional documents:

on one hand it is an economic enterprise providing for very significant levels of investment and thus requiring the definition of robust management methods that provide the necessary guarantees to private investors; on the other, it is an institutional enterprise aiming to produce not only initiatives but also, and especially, new organisational propositions and models that show how public administrations, the not-for-profit sector and private operators can become effective partners for addressing the issue of housing needs

(FHS website)12

Created in 2004 by Fondazione Cariplo and supported by the Lombardy Region and Anci Lombardia (the association of Lombardy municipalities), the FHS is an active member in the Italian real estate panorama as an innovative stakeholder in the field of the so-called “modern housing policies” intended as a response to the problem of the growing gap between the housing supply (dwellings in the free market, mostly expensive and not affordable) and the actual economic means of Italian families. Although most Italians own their houses (more than 80 per cent), a strong demand of rental houses has arisen by the population unable to buy, to be homeowner. It is in this scenery that FHS steps in with a long-term strategy intended not only to promote access to housing by those who are in the grey area, those who are not eligible for public housing and at the same time, are not financially able to stand in the private market.

The mission of the FHS (at least in what is declared in their institutional documents) is also to ensure residents’ empowerment and their social integration. Such commitment has also meant promoting the building of new houses, but above all devising a new model of urban development proper to ensure a high standard of life for residents and for the neighbourhood in which its activities are inserted, thanks to special attention to proximity services, to the promotion of positive and solidarity relations among those who are directly involved in the projects (as users or neighbours) and to the development of social programmes devoted to facilitate and improve cohabitation conditions.

The work of FHS developed along three main axes: promoting ethical financing initiatives, and in particular, real estate funds dedicated to social housing; testing of innovative, non-profit management models; and developing project design instruments to be shared among all sector operators and promoting public–private partnerships to develop their initiatives complementing the existing public housing policies and substituting them.

The first endowment by Fondazione Cariplo permitted FHS to move the first steps into the real estate world and thereby create an ethical fund, the Fondo Abitare Sociale 1, in 2005. It is limited to institutional investors such as public institutions, big firms and bank foundations. Its purpose was to finance the building of apartments and services to solve tenants’ housing problems, supporting the public administration and the third-sector agencies’ efforts in this direction.

The fund’s aim was to give birth to affordable dwellings for students, elderly people, one-income families, migrants, young people, and more generally, those who cannot afford market prices to cope with their housing needs. According to what is stated in FHS documents, “another portion of the fund is allotted to supporting projects inspired to the principles of the ‘ethic estate finance’, which specifies that no investment should be made in projects of buildings used for the trading and stocking of weapons, tobacco, alcohol and similar items”13.

The ethics of the fund was related to the fact that it was devoted to “non-speculative investors”, assuring yearly returns in the range of 2-4 per cent plus inflation. These investors have been defined in interviews as “patient investors” (but also in the literature: Giamo 2011). The fund has a lifespan of 20 years and its management has been assigned to Polaris SgR (savings management firm) as indicated by legislation for all real estate funds; while the follow-up of social purposes obtained through the fund itself has been entrusted to FHS. The Fondo Abitare Sociale 1 has been financed with 85 million euros by the following investors: Fondazione Cariplo, Regione Lombardia, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti14, Banca Intesa San Paolo, Banca Popolare di Milano, Assicurazioni Generali and Cassa Geometri with 10 million euros each and Telecom Italia and Pirelli with 2.55 and 2.45 million of euros, respectively (Fondazione Housing Sociale 2009).

In 2006 the Abitare Sociale 1 fund was transformed into a new fund called Fondo Immobiliare di Lombardia (FIL), participated mainly by Fondazione Cariplo and FHS, along with the same partners of the first fund and other new investors such as Prelios and Fondo Investimenti per l’Abitare (see next paraghaph, managed by Polaris SgR.

The whole system of social and ethical funds has further developed with the creation in 2009/10 of a “A National Real Estate Fund System” called “Fondo Investimenti per l’abitare” (FIA) managed by CDP Investimenti SgR promoted by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti S.p.A., the Association of Bank Foundations (Associazione di Fondazioni e di Casse di Risparmio S.p.A., or ACRI – actually directed by the president of Fondazione Cariplo) and the Italian Bank Association (Associazione Bancaria Italiana, or ABI), to build a platform for launching and support real estate closed-end funds and their activities.

FIA invest and will invest in social housing initiatives to increment the supply of affordable housing, both for renting and for selling, supporting and integrating public (national, regional and municipal) housing policies. The target of its activities is, as written above and as stated by interviewees, “the grey area of housing demanders”, those who cannot access the free market but are not eligible for public housing (edilizia residenziale pubblica). Its geographical scope is very wide (the entire country) and its capital reached 2 billion and 28 million euros by March 2012; 1 billion given by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti; 140 million by the Italian Infrastructure and Transports Ministry; and 888 million by banking and insurance groups. It has a lifespan of 35 years with a possible extension of no more than 3 years. It will invest exclusively in real estate, and, until June 2012 it could participate with no more than 40 per cent of its total capital invested in each local initiative or social real estate development along with local funds (as the FIL one). From June 2012, due to the current economic and financial crisis (mainly to the credit crunch), participation could reach 60 per cent of investment in order to unlock planned initiatives by local funds and agencies around Italy that lack 2 or 3 million euros in most cases. From mid 2013 the participation can reach 80 per cent in case of projects that have a strong social orientation.

35.3. Internal organisation and modes of working

Until 2011-12, FHS was organised into two main offices, the “finance area”, focused on the financial structure of private social housing initiatives and on the management of associated implementation procedures (preliminary analyses, feasibility studies, negotiation support, financial structuring, financial planning, strategic partner search, governance and real estate market analysis); and the “planning and development area”, specialised in urban and architectural design and also on the social aspects of the projects (e.g. design guidelines, local relations, social management and participation, occupant selection, service design, urban analysis, urban redevelopment and the legislative framework). With the creation of the FIA, the finance area has been absorbed and internalised by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, which needed specific competences in this pretty new and complex corpus of policies, instruments and issues of and for social housing (it has to be considered that also the legislation is very recent).

Currently, within the National Fund (the FIA), FHS actively inspires the promotion and organisation of new local real estate ethical funds managed by different investment management companies (throughout Italy for initiatives with an aggregate value of more than 3.5 billion euros. FHS and Polaris SgR have been asked to operate as a technical advisors for many of these funds, with a “coaching” and sometimes, “scouting” role.

The evolution of the initial innovative idea of FHS and Fondazione Cariplo is huge in terms of scope, capitalisation and capacity to operate as a policymaker at national at local levels. Nowadays the FHS’s aim is to be, as stated by the project manager of FHS, “an incubator of housing policies”, therefore not only to promote the encounter of demand and supply of housing – particularly in favour of the weakest – but also to ensure, through its action, good life opportunities, integration, services and housing quality. Now that the system of ethic funds is solid, FHS, seated in Milan, will finally focus its attention in “developing community welfare programmes” (as stated in interviews) in its housing initiatives. It will fully experiment what FHS calls “sustainable communities”. In their words:

The integrated management plan envisioned for these social housing projects proposes a process of community building mainly addressing accommodation needs. The inclusion of people in disadvantaged circumstances is also favoured via specific projects that not only help meet the needs of their direct beneficiaries but also help strengthen the community identity, the network of interpersonal relations, and a shared feeling of a more sociable living dimension. This scenario entails the objective of achieving an appropriate social mix, i.e. a heterogeneous and balanced community including disadvantaged segments and a good range of diversity, implementing instruments and organisational methods that facilitate the management of cohabitation and community functions and safeguard its components. The social mix must be accompanied by a functional mix incorporating a variety of services into the residential context, contributing to improving the quality of life and ensuring services in the territory, oriented especially to help the most vulnerable. The development of a sense of identity and membership in the place where one lives is considered to be one of the most critical elements in providing incentives for active participation in community life, transforming the residents from simple beneficiaries of a service into active players in the determination of the quality of their condition and their context

(FHS website)


35.4. Interaction with the local welfare system

FHS’s challenge is therefore complex: to encourage different stakeholders towards common goals, attracting investments for social housing projects, monitoring their results and developing management sustainable models that can be replicated in other contexts than the Milan or Lombardy one. Looking for sustainability in the Italian context means mainly finding economic and financial conditions that make social housing projects attractive not only for dedicated stakeholders (as FHS) or public ones, but also to private stakeholders. In this sense, FHS need and want to be fully embedded in the local welfare system, aware that its projects need to be supported by local authorities and partners that have (by mission or by convenience) the same long-term horizon for investments. According to what is declared in institutional materials and in interviews to FSH and Fondazione Cariplo executives, innovation is such when it becomes a practice and such practices may be followed by action models acquired by policymakers.

A brief presentation of the Milan projects developed by the “Fondo Immobiliare Lombardia” (FIL) will give some idea of how the interaction of the local welfare system takes place. It has to be considered that all these projects are developed with the Milan municipality in different kinds of partnership (use of public land, use of other public resources and institutional support) and that buildings are designed to ensure high energy technology and energy standards at a reasonable cost of construction and maintenance. The actual projects that are being developed (in construction if ex novo buildings or in action if implemented re-using spaces) are Cenni di cambiamento, Figino Borgo Sostenibile, Maison du Monde 36, Abit@giovani. Each of them is based in a different public–private arrangement and try to respond to different social/housing needs. It is important to point out that most of these projects have yet produced lived-in spaces; people have not yet entered the social housing buildings. Only Cenni di Cambiamento have been inaugurated in November 2013 and residents moved in. All these projects aim to develop communities of residents that organise themselves to manage their spaces and common life. The core idea is that this can happen when people know each other and with the help and support of social managers that can “accompany” residents to share some activities. All the projects are also based in the co-opting of an organisation that functions as “social manager”.

Cenni di cambiamento

Cenni di cambiamento means “signs of change” in Italian. Cenni is also the road in which the social housing intervention is located. The title of the project plays intelligently with words and “speaks” about its philosophy. It was one of the first building realisations of FHS, 124 flats in the western part of the city. The main targets are young people, intended as newly formed families or singles who have just left their family. On the ground floor there will be premises assigned to social and community businesses, designed to improve quality of life and to encourage social contact among residents. The core of the project is the inner court, meant to become a small park and open to residents of the district, which includes playgrounds, a resting area and pergolas. On 30 March 2012, the apartments started to be assigned on the basis of a rent of 5000 euros for a two-room flat per year (that is less than 500 euros per month), thereby allowing low rents (publicly regulated) and high housing quality.

Almost half of the apartments are proposed with a rent-to-buy formula. The social manager of Via Cenni will be DAR Casa, a third-sector housing agency. In Cenni will be developed in cooperation with “ARCI Barabba” (a historical and very active association) a foyer for young people, for temporary housing needs (2/3 years of possible stay). Five apartments will be devoted to this specific target and a residents’ association will be created to promote self–organised personal services, such as taking care of children, supporting voluntary activities for and by neighbours, and so on.


This project’s aim is to recuperate a building located in Via Padova, n. 36, one of the most ethnically oriented streets (and neighbourhoods) in Milan. It is planned to offer 50 apartments with affordable rents to young couples, migrant families, students, workers and researchers with temporary housing needs that cannot cope with free market prices. The project aims also to offer better living conditions to those who already live there, and that constitutes “the historical memory” of this place. The logic is the same as that of Via Cenni, building and implementing an economically sustainable model of social housing experimenting new public–private governance and developing good housing quality. The historical building is being renewed, fifty apartments (different sizes) will be made, as well as collective spaces for “integrative services for living”, two commercial spaces (for shops) and an office on the ground floor. Work started in December 2011 and will be finished by March 201415.

Figino Borgo Sostenibile

This project has the aim of valorising the social dimension of a borgo that still characterises the neighbourhood and support informal positive social relations. The programme consists of the building of 320 apartments to target young couples, families with many children, professionals that work from home and families that are available to host disabled people; and commercial spaces and spaces devoted to integrative services to residents.


Abit@giovani ( is a “diffused social housing project”. It is a new project developed by FHS with ALER Milan, the public housing agency of the city, and with the Milan municipality. Its aim is to recuperate and valorise single dwellings belonging to the public housing stock that, for many and different reasons, are not used or are empty. It stems from an original idea of Don Gino Rigoldi, a well-known priest who works in the city in many welfare services. The objective of the project is to identify 1,000 dwellings in the city. The first 250 have been already identified by the partners. They will be renewed and devoted to young people who will pay an affordable rent in which is embedded (if they wish) a buying component (in a rent-to-buy scheme). Residents will be allowed to buy these apartments at the end of the 8-year period. Single adults must be a maximum 35 years old, couples must have a combined age of less than 70 years. In the first part of 2013 a first call has been launched for the first apartments and more than 500 persons/couples have responded to it, in some way sharing the philosophy of the project that asks, here again, the availability to share time and common spaces and services to future residents.


Content keywords

Keywords: Activation | Activation policies | Case management | Child care | Child education | Citizen initiatives | Citizenship | Civil society | Co-funding | Co-production | Collaboration | Community | Community development | Democracy | Deregulation | Development | Diffusion | Disability | Employment services | Empowerment | Enabling | Entrepreneurialism | Entrepreneurship | European Social Fund | Family caregivers | Family Centres | Family needs | Family-minded | Gentrification | Governance | Grassroots initiatives | Housing corporation | Housing policy | Incubator | Integration | Labour market | Labour market integration | Local context | Local governance | Local governments | Local initiatives | Local welfare | Local welfare system | Lone mothers | Lone parent support | Micro-credit | Municipality | Neighbourhood | Neighbourhood revitalisation | Network | Networking | Participation | Partnerships | Personalising support | Political administrative system | Precarious working conditions | Preschool education | Privatisation | Public administration | Regional government | Segregation | Single mothers | Social and solidarity-based economy (SSE) | Social capital | Social cohesion | Social economy | Social enterprise | Social entrepreneurship | Social housing | Social housing policies | Social inclusion | Social investment | Social media | Subsidiarity | Sustainability | Third sector organisations | Unemployment | Urban gardening | Urban renewal | User choice | Welfare governance | Welfare mixes | Workfare | Young mothers | Youth unemployment

35. Fondazione Housing Sociale


35. Fondazione Housing Sociale