Squatters occupy homes in Venice to protest housing as tourism increases

Venice’s population declined rapidly from around 175,000 after World War II to around 50,000 today. Other residents complain that their town is overrun with tourists when they have to foot the bill for cleaning and security.

Around 25 million tourists flock to the Italian lagoon city every year, of which around 14 million spend a single day there. It has nearly 8,000 Airbnb apartments for those who stay longer, enjoying the attractions around the canals.

Nicola Ussardi, 41, co-founder of a community housing group that helps Venetians find accommodation, has been living in an apartment in the Cannaregio district since 2013 with her partner Nadia and their two children.

He says many houses remain empty as people are forced to move and then cannot afford the maintenance of properties in order to rent them out – although the municipal housing authority says activists are preventing home renovations by occupying them.

“There are no houses for the rich or for the less rich, not even for the poor. There are no houses available in Venice unless you are a tourist,” said Ussardi, who runs a souvenir stand near Saint Mark’s Square.

Ussardi earns between 800 and 1,300 euros per month (900 to 1,450 dollars) thanks to his stall. Most rents for a family of four in central Venice are over 900 euros per month.

Alessandro Dus, 34, has lived in an apartment for two years.

“We want to fight against the thousands of closed abandoned apartments in Venice, when we move into an abandoned apartment, we renovate it and we make it habitable again,” he said.

The Venetians don’t want to end tourism – a huge source of income – but like many hotspots now looking to meet the challenges of increased visitor numbers, they are studying how to keep the numbers in check and how locals could stay. in the city.

This year, the Venice council voted to impose an entrance fee on visitors to help pay for the upkeep of the much-visited World Heritage site and possibly help keep numbers low.

While acknowledging that “Venice is in danger of disappearing”, the head of the regional housing agency, Raffaele Speranzon, denounced the squatters for taking matters into their own hands, saying they undermine the fair distribution of housing.

“We have funds that come to us from the region to maintain these buildings but frequently we cannot use this money because the houses are occupied. In fact, they are houses taken from the community,” he said. declared. “A lot of times they pass out with friends, ignoring people who want to follow the rules or ask for apartments legally. It’s like skipping the line at the checkout.”

By Guglielmo Mangiapane / Reuters

Reporting by Guglielmo Mangiapane; Written by Eleanor Biles; Editing by Alison Williams.

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