Catania We might have been having an espresso overlooking the working port of Catania with its tall grain towers and massive cruise ships crowding smaller fishing and pleasure boats, as many walked along the edge of the port to breathe in the sea air, but we were talking trouble when we started discussing the issues faced by tenants all over Sicily, especially in Catania.
Laura Saija and I were talking to the head of the Tenants’ Union of Sicily, Guisey Milaazzo, and one of the founding organizers of a community and tenant organization in the mammoth Librino housing project on the edge of the city. The tenants’ union has been around for a while and still claims almost 8000 members paying thirty euros per year with almost 3000 of them in both Catania and Palermo. Of the 300,000 or so population in the city of Catania about 100,000 are tenants with 9000 of that number in public housing and the rest in private. Membership has been difficult in the public housing sector for the tenants’ union as the units have aged, and the public authorities have either disinvested in public housing or engaged in schemes that shunt off the responsibility for maintenance and upkeep. A public-private split has exacerbated the issues with many high-rises mixed between public units and formerly public units that were allowed to be purchased by the tenants. Unfortunately, in such a mixed development the responsibilities for paying for modernization of the units has devolved into a bad stalemate with public bankruptcies and the inability of lower income tenants to shoulder the debt necessary for unit rebabs. As we know globally, that pretty much means a ticking timebomb until the public complexes are virtually uninhabitable.
Whether in Librino or the union’s regular meeting with the regional administrator who has taken over public housing in Sicily for the last dozen years because of the financial catastrophe, our friends described frustration as demands and hopes had collapsed in Librino or only yielded “5% success” in the union’s case. All of which mean an increasing crisis and less capacity to meet it effectively as the organizing programs were thwarted.
We talked about inclusionary zoning and the creation of other schemes for affordable housing, but the story was not much better. Italy offers various incentives, but nothing is mandatory. Inclusionary zoning is also soft.
Regardless, it was clear there might be many common causes and grounds for collaboration around work in Sicily, and the Tenants’ Union was welcoming. They have a long history and carry the scars of many battles, so they will be a good guide for future work.