The International Advisory Group on Forced Evictions established by the UN-HABITAT in 2004 has embarked on missions to select countries to engage authorities in finding solutions to forced evictions. A team of Network members undertook such a mission to Rome from 16-17 February 2005.
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LONDON, Feb 21 (IPS) - The group of homeless families put on blue UN style helmets inside an empty hotel to greet the arrival of the United Nations Advisory Group on Forced Evictions (AGFE) in Rome last week.
They were soon evicted, but they had made their point. ”We want to tell the multinational corporations evicting the poor to build hotels and commercial centres that this has huge social consequences,” Simona Panzini from Action, the housing rights network behind the squatting told IPS.
The group sought ”UN humanitarian protection” from AGFE, a body of the UN human settlements programme Habitat that monitors evictions within the UN global Campaign for Secure Tenure.
”It is surprising that AGFE has to visit a country that is a member of the world's seven biggest economies (G7),” coordinator of the AGFE Italian mission Cesare Ottolini told IPS. ”About 700,000 people of the world's one billion affected by housing problems live in Italy.”
The situation is worst in Rome. The Tenants Union (Unione degli Inquilini) reports that about 200,000 families in Italy, some 30,000 in the city, are living in precarious conditions. Some 15,000 evictions are under way, AGFE says, though a national order has blocked eviction of poor families or handicapped people until next month.
”Three in four evictions are caused by the failure of tenants to pay rent,” Massimo Pasquini from the Tenants Union told IPS. ”Rents are too high due to property speculation, massive privatisation of social housing estates and the introduction of the free market.” Migrants, retired people and families living on one salary are the most affected. But ”the house has become a middle class problem,” Pasquini said. Many families spend up to 50 percent of their income on rent.
”Big groups such as JP Morgan, City Group and Pirelli are buying entire buildings to sell them at high prices,” Pasquini said. Between 1991 and 2001, the gentrification process has forced 300,000 of Rome's 2.5 million residents to move out.
”Social housing programmes in Italy -- representing only 5 percent of houses -- are blocked, and government subsidies suspended,” Pasquini said. ”This is not a temporary housing emergency, it is a long lasting problem affecting thousands.”
Thirty charities support Rome's homeless and people living in precarious conditions, providing them shelter and food. Two homeless people died in January because of the cold.
Emmaus, a group that can provide just 14 beds, gets about 500 requests a year. The number of evicted families knocking on its door is growing. About 85 percent of people seeking a place to stay are Italian, and 50 percent are under 50.
”But charities cannot make up for the local authorities,” Isabella Massafra from Emmaus told IPS. Emmaus itself risks eviction by the municipality that owns the building it uses.
Charities and housing rights groups are involved in negotiations with the local municipality for a new housing policy for Rome. ”We are calling for adoption of a social rent (canone sociale) proportional to family income and not more than 15 percent of it,” Pasquini said.
AGFE and the Rome municipality have signed a charter committing the municipality to better social housing programmes. This could lead to suspension of evictions.
The charter supports a European Union fund for ”housing assistance for migrants” and for ”adequate structural funds” to support the right to housing. ”We support the inclusion of the right to a decent house in the European Constitution,” Ottolini said. ”Housing is becoming a problem also in the European industrialised countries.”
The AGFE team will also visit France where 3.2 million people live in precarious conditions and more 5.6 million are at risk, the charity Abbé Pierre Foundation reports. (END/2005)
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