Italian Students Camp Out Against High Rents

Source: University students' union UDU (Unione degli Universitari)

In Italy, a growing number of students are mobilising in a peaceful protest against high rent costs in university cities under the slogan “Senza casa=senza futuro” (No housing=no future). Led by the university students’ union UDU (Unione degli Universitari), they demand affordable education and are are making their voices heard across the country.

The student protest against high rents in Milan began in early May, when engineering student Ilaria Lamera set up a tent in front of the Polytechnic. “After months of commuting, I started looking for a place to live in Milan and realised that all the rooms were starting at 700 euros a month, not including utilities. It seemed incredibly unfair to me: even if I could pay for it, the principle didn’t seem right”. The mobilisation then spread like wildfire to many other university cities.

Over the years, Italy has seen a growth in the number of off-site students and, according to the data published by CDP[1], there may be more than 800,000 this year. However, Italian students are suffering from the rampant rising of rent costs in university cities. The situation is difficult both in large cities such as Rome, Milan, Bologna and in smaller cities like Modena and Padua, where rent prices have increased exponentially in recent years. This situation makes it extremely difficult for students to find affordable and decent housing, and forces them to spend prohibitive sums and yet live in precarious and mediocre housing conditions, or face long daily commutes to universities.

Only 15 thousand beds have been built since 2000 while several residences were closing because of the lack of investments. Therefore, while other European countries like Germany focused on public student housing, Italy’s immobilism has forced students to pour into the open rental market. In this scenario, the strong need for beds is met by the market reacting with a clear increase in prices, indeed due to the insufficiency of public supply. As a matter of fact, from January 2015 to 2022, the increase in rent prices (taking into account all types of residential properties) is around the 30%.

In response to the protest, the Minister of University and Research Anna Maria Bernini has announced that new funds will be released and allocated for the creation of around 100 thousand beds by 2026. 960 million euros will come from the PNRR, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, and other 400 million euros will be provided through other state funds. At first, the measures taken by the Ministry may seem to result in good investments but unfortunately, digging further, all the limitations and criticalities of this intervention emerge.

The fundamental problem is that the funds will be mainly given to private operators and companies, which partially contradicts with the original objective of the PNRR to guarantee the “Right to Study”: the result is that most of the beds (between 60% and 80%) have been put on the open market. The absence of a regulation that helps to allocate the beds to students in need who apply and enter the university benefits rankings, and the absence of monitoring by the Ministry, generates some serious problems. Moreover, many of these beds are not even new but are made available in existing facilities with rents that still reach 800 euros per month.

After conducting a survey about the topic, the university students’ union UDU has written to the Minister Bernini, asking her to open a dialogue with their representatives. Besides, UDU has prepared a manifesto containing ten proposals to improve the students’ housing conditions.

    1. Build new affordable university residences run by state entities instead of private businesses, prioritising the allocations for the students most in need;
    2. Increase the aid fund for off-site students from the current 4 million to at least 50 million, so that it can ease the burden of high rents and high utility bills;
    3. Stop the rent prices’ increase: just like in Spain, France and Germany, a cap must be placed on rent increases and an alternative index to the general price index must be created;
    4. Limit tourist rentals by giving the tools to municipalities to intervene through regulations and licenses;
    5. Counteract undeclared renting by increasing inspections by the Revenue Agency;
    6. Control rent prices through an intelligent use of taxation. Tax breaks must be taken away from unregulated and market-rate apartments[2], thus making regulated lease contracts more attractive;
    7. Provide incentives for a gradual energy requalification of buildings, starting with apartment buildings in order to reduce emissions and utility bills;
    8. Revise calls for university benefits to ensure a greater support to the off-site students most in need;
    9. Monitor rental trends through a more comprehensive and articulate annual publication by the Revenue Agency;
    10. Establish a permanent working group at the Ministry of University and Research to address the housing crisis, involving the CNSU (University Students’ National Board) and the Ministry of Infrastructures and Transportation.

The ‘tent protest’ against high rents wants to draw the public attention to the problem of housing, since it does not only affect university students but also workers and families. At this point, it is crucial that academic institutions, local authorities and the government take charge of this urgent issue and commit to finding concrete solutions both in the short and long terms.


[1] Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, the Italian National Promotional Institution
[2] Landlords can change the terms and conditions of a renewed lease and increase the amount of rent to their choosing.