It is the imperative of a university to ensure the availability of adequate, affordable housing for its students. It's not just about economic concerns; housing is a practical necessity that deeply impacts the educational and professional experiences of those within the university community. When a student struggles with rising rent costs, it's not merely a matter of budget constraints. This financial strain can become a pervasive source of stress, impacting mental health and, subsequently, academic performance. For staff members, the difficulty in securing accommodation near their workplace affects their effectiveness in carrying out their responsibilities, contributing to a less productive university environment. The repercussions extend even further when considering the broader institutional standing. Visiting scholars, a vital component of academic exchange and collaboration, may be dissuaded from recommending or returning to a university if they face the burden of exorbitant hotel costs during extended stays. This dynamic not only affects the immediate reputation of the institution but also its attractiveness on the global academic stage.
The issue of housing affordability is particularly pronounced in European university cities, and Italy is no exception to this trend. Cities like Milan, Rome, and Napoli have witnessed an approximate 10% increase in rent since the pre-pandemic era. However, the situation is more dire in places like Bari, where the cost of a single room has surged by nearly 40% compared to 2019. Venice, while showing an average rental increase of 3.5%, experiences even steeper hikes for single or shared rooms, particularly in areas like Mestre, Marghera, and Venice itself.
Several factors contribute to this surge in housing costs like urbanization, the impact of tourism, the prevalence of short-term rentals like Airbnb, and the continuous influx of foreign migrants and students through programs such as Erasmus but the fundamental issue is one of supply and demand and the school administrations have a responsibility to accommodate for shifts in external factors to better suit the new environment. Despite the general situation universities, especially ones with departments for economics and social studies, must have foreseen and started planning for this issue.
When it comes to solving this issue the most straight forward answer would be direct government intervention to build or buy new housing but such changes would require lobbying, legislation and popular support from the non-student population that cannot reliably be generated in a timely manner. As such local and regional action through municipalities and school administrations must be considered.
Expanding On-Campus Housing: Universities can invest in expanding on-campus housing options to accommodate more students. This may involve partnerships with private developers or securing funding for new construction projects to convert existing buildings into housing. The issue with this solution being once again time and money as in urban centers space is already at a premium. Venice however is unique in this manner as although space is limited, around the city there is a large number abandoned or empty buildings that can be converted to housing. Although here we face the unique construction challenges of Venetian architecture and large amounts real estate tied up in the portfolios of speculators. As a solution the university and private investors did open the San Giobbe campus which eased the pressure on rentals and accommodated some students but 229 new beds in a school with over 7000 students is just a drop in the bucket and is inadequate.
For the time being the school administration appears occupied with the opening of a new library in Treviso and we cannot expect new construction projects anytime soon.
Negotiating Affordable Housing Deals: Academic institutions can collaborate with local housing providers to negotiate affordable rates for students. Establishing such partnerships can create a more sustainable and cost-effective housing environment. Although not great as a permanent solution since it requires the collaboration of both property owners and the local governments, this solution has the benefit of only requiring administrative work and financial resources to see through. Schools can help directly negotiate with renters to reduce costs on the students end, and if possible cover some of the costs themselves to further reduce the burden. This has the added benefit for students since they no longer have to worry about finding accommodation themselves.
In this regard Ca Foscari is working with the website “Sturent.it” which aims to provide a direct link between renters and students. Unfortunately the website falls short in meeting students' housing needs. Most listings are outdated and it is difficult to contact property owners. And even if one were able to find an available house almost all listings are above the market price. These challenges result in a suboptimal experience for both students and renters, hindering the site's ability to efficiently connect students with suitable housing options, forcing students to use platforms like Facebook when seeking housing which is suboptimal.
Ideally schools would by themselves respond to these problems and attempt to solve them but so far there has been little direct action against the rising costs of housing, let alone a serious acknowledgement of the problem. This situation has left students themselves scrambling to get attention from the schools.
In recent times we have seen students make protests directly against school administrations about housing. One of the more popular protests was the one in Milan. Students at Politecnico di Milano like many others are advocating for concrete solutions to address the housing crisis. Despite some adjustments to the agreed-upon rent, the costs remain high, prompting discontent. The students are taking their frustration to the streets, quite literally. Camping in front of the university since May. Beyond merely voicing discontent, their physical presence in front of the university makes avoiding the issue a lot more difficult for university administration. The protests even drew the attention of some left-wing politicians who have commented on the issue.
In Venice too there have been student protests over the years, the last one for specifically housing happening about 6 months ago but there have been others before. The school administration has not made any statements on these protests so far.
Putting aside the basic welfare of the students this problem can reflect on the political sphere as well. There is already a push from right-wing parties to tie the problem of housing to immigration and on the other hand the costs associated with studying can create the impression that universities are exclusively for those from a wealthy background. Regardless of the validity of these viewpoints it is undeniable that if no action is taken this problem can only get worse and spread to other realms of society.