New Orleans Over the last two years we have been in touch with organizing in Palermo and Catania, the largest cities on the Italian island of Sicily, and I had been looking forward to visiting with them after the Organizers’ Forum dialogue in Cairo later this month. I had hoped our next ACORN International affiliate would develop out of these relationships and work. Suddenly, ACORN Italy has jumped into reality on steroids thanks to a series of sudden events prompted by an activist/organizer named David Tozzo, reaching out to me on Facebook about his interest in building an ACORN International chapter in Rome.
The accelerated pace has been driven by a rare organizing opportunity that David brought forward in our first Skype conversation. He had identified a handle that he wondered if it might be helpful in building ACORN in Italy. The handle was more than helpful, it was one of those rare, classic organizing tools that with hard work and wide range can springboard mass organization.
Here’s what’s happening. There’s a problem in Rome and undoubtedly all of Italy (and perhaps elsewhere in Europe for all I know) around collecting taxes from landlords. The parliament passed a very interesting piece of legislation. They created a procedure first that allowed landlords to “come clean” that they had been renting without reporting the income or registering the leases (which is required by Italian law). They had to do so by June 6th of this year. Failing to do so, if tenants could establish that they had been renting from a property owner through a series of steps with several agencies and a sizeable bureaucracy then their rent would be reduced to between 10 and 20% of what it was (there is a complex reckoning on the formula assessing value, penalty, and reward) and then guaranteed at those rates for the standard lease term, which in Italy is four years with a four year option extension (4×4). Thus far from articles that David has shared with me, and I have dutifully ground through Google translate, several tenants with lawyers have navigated the rules and are now enjoying leases along these lines, establishing the precedent in stone.
Estimates indicate that no less than 70,000 tenants in Rome could be living in unregistered apartments and on the upside the numbers are huge. Multiply that by all of Italy, and bam! Were ACORN Italy to be able to create a campaign that effectively broke through the bureaucracy to create a streamlined entitlement millions would be collected by the state from scofflaw landlords, millions of euros would be effectively transferred in savings and increased spending power by tenants, and a confluence of interests would combine to create dramatic change.
The Italian law has created the appropriate carrot and stick. Essentially they have created an incentive for tenants to assist the state in income tax collection, but unfortunately they did so in a quite half-step that was more threatening than real and then buried it in a multi-layered complex bureaucracy. Now we have the opportunity to try and organize a powerful organization and campaign that can hit it squarely, shake it hard, and make it produce huge benefits for tenants that will alter the balance of power for families in the future in Rome and throughout the country.