Thursday, March 16, 2006

On Housing in Rome and Italians Staying at their Parents'

Prompted by a comment at my previous' entry and a few emails I got from a mail I sent to the VCN-Rome mailing list, I thought about writing a little bit about the problems related on finding a house. Mind you, it will be a venting article.

So, why a 30 years old, working, reasonably independant, internationally minded man (not boy, please, boyhood ends when you finish studying, despite what the age-horrified mass media says) still resides with his own parents in Italy? The answer is simple: he cannot afford to buy an apartment, however little, for himself and renting one is prohibitive as well. And note that being in the 20-25.000 euros/year income range, I'm supposedly a pretty well doing person for my age.

Let's get right to the point: houses prices and rents have skyrocketed, basically going up from 200% to 400% between 2001 and now. Why? Euro introduction and the 1.000 liras to 1 euros change that has taken place in many realities, from grocery stores to real estate (despite the idiocies that statistical centres keep repeating that there was no more than a 3% inflation rate). If renting a house did cost 5 years ago 1.000.000 liras/month, today the same place costs at least 1.500 euros/month, roughly three times more. At the same time, the salary were correctly converted using the 1.936 liras to 1 euros ratio and basically stayed as they were 5 years ago, corrected, when it happened, with the official 1.5/35 official inflation rate.

Don't believe me? Ok, another example. Renting a single room for a student in a shared apartment in 2001 did cost around 250-300.000 liras/month, now (if you can find it) it's at least 350 euros/month (but more like 400/500, plus expenses), more than three times that.

The result is that if statistically italians used to leave their parents' place at the moment they got their first job or married (usually the two things being the same) and that happened at 26/30, now they can do it only when they get married and both the members of the couple works and that happens in the 28/35 range. And I will let aside the fact that 1/3 of the population in that age range lives with works that are paid under 1.000 euros a month and are "flexible", meaning they can be lost one month to the other and give no projectual horizont at all. And they wonder why Italians have one of the lowest (if not the lowest) birth rate in the world.

Now, I'm no exception to the rule. I do work a stable job (which I'm looking to change, btw, anyone has some proposal?) and from the day after I got it, 2 years ago, I also started looking for a place on my own. Unsuccesfully. The truth is that with my salary I could get a mortgage of maybe 150.000 € over 30 years and for that sum, in Rome, you do not get a 30 square meters apartment (or you do, if you accept to live in a former garage that is still a garage for the land register but that is sold as a "loft" or "mini-apartment" by the...shall we say voracious? Owner). Just to make an example, a 60 square meters apartment in a no particularly well connected area of the city as the one I'm going to move to (in my parent's new apartment) goes for 350.000 euros. Note that the area is much closer to the external highway ring of the city than it is to the centre.

So the solution would be either to use between a third and half of my incomes to rent a room in a shared apartment (with all the inconveniences of that and with the rest of my moneny disappearing to pay for bills and self-sustainment) or to stay with my parents, save half my incomes every year (the other half goes for travels, especially this year, clothes and.. well everything else but food) and... what?

Because the problem is exactly that: then what? Can you stay with your parents, no matter how liberal and unintrusive they are, all your life? Of course you can't and for how much I love the idea of extended family in general and the two of them in particular, it's becoming more and more heavy as the months pass by, coupled with a frustration feeling that is mine and of most of my generation.

Ok, you could say, you could move out of the actual city. Good point. The problem with it is that Rome has a tremendously poor public transport system. The fact that the whole 3 millions people city has only two, short, underground lines is mirrored by the fact that the infrastructure network connecting the city to the suburban area is, at best, a joke.

I'm sure in Paris, Berlin (ah, how I tremendously love the undergrounds of Berlin) and probably London (I will see in a week) one can actually go and live 20-30 kms away from downtown and still, relying on the metrĂ² or S+U-bahn systems (respectively, the picture to the left and right, while the comparingly pitiful roman one is below Paris' one... click to enlarge), be able to work there and even "live" there in the week-ends, but in Rome, as soon as you get out of the 10 kms radius (the "scooter" range), the house-work-house commute times jumps from 1 hour to 3 and the parking problem becomes unsolvable. Hence the astronomical prices of the houses in the city.

So, when you hear of the italians living with their "mamma"s when it is already quite past time for them to be fathers or mothers, don't blame it all on the "italian family" mentality or on the fact our moms are the best cooks and housemaids we'll ever meet( and will always be the one who will pamper us better than anyone else). That is actually the excuse we like to put out rather than admitting we wish to move, but we simply are too poor for.

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