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Italy, Cassa Depositi e Presitit Investimenti between social housing and Privatisation of public assets, with money from postal savings

The internet site explains that "CDP Investimenti (Deposits and Consignments Fund) SGR supports the social housing politics and the development of public assets”. Going one step further, the company’s family tree describes the two instruments at their disposal, one which is 70% controlled by the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, S.p.A of which 80% of shares are held by the Ministry of Finance which manages (and invests) the postal savings of Italian citizens, generally about 240 billion euros. The other shareholders are the Italian Banking Association and ACRI, Association of Banking Foundations and the Savings Banks.

The investment operations are managed by the Fondo d’Investimenti per la Valorizzazione (FIV) (Funds for Investment Promotion), created in 2012, in order to “stimulate and optimise the process of selling real estate assets held by public bodies”, which “may present a potential unexpressed value, tied up for example in change of use of the property, to the generation of profits, to the fractional sale, and the “market led” as explained by the institutional site. In December 2013, it had contracts for the purchase of buildings belonging to six local authorities -for a sum of 190 million euros* - and around 40 properties belonging to Agenzia del Demanio, manager of public assets, for 300 million euros. Globally, 825 million euros have been invested into FIV funds.

Social Housing: incompatible with the need to provide affordable housing

On the other hand, richer proves the Fondo d’Investimenti per l’Abitare (FIA) (Housing Fund Investment), which has been subscribed for up to 2 billion 28 million euros (of which 1 billion subscribed by the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, 140 million by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport and 888 million by banking and insurance groups as well as private pension plans).

This brings us face to face with the problem of access to housing. In an interview, which he gave to the magazine Altreconomia, concerning the private social housing programmes, Sergio Urbani, co-director general of CDPI Sgr (management company savings) announced that: “the necessary output [to promote a social housing initiative] is not compatible with public social housing”. In short, what he meant to say, is that the resources which the Funds have provided are not compatible with the need to guarantee the right to housing and to meet the estimated needs of 2 million social housing places in the whole of Italy in 2018. Matteo Del Fante, president of CDP Investimenti (and Director General of Cassa Depositi et Prestiti) summed up the differences between the old high rise social hosing blocks and the present social housing as follows, at an informal hearing on May 8th 2012 at the Environment Committee of the Chamber of Deputies commission: “the investment criteria of Fondo Investiment per l’Abitare (FIA) predicts [...] that the expected return is in the range of 3% in addition to inflation”. And although a decision by the Court of Auditors (in December 2011) has already criticised the efficiency and the economic aspect of the actions put into place by Funds, Matteo Del Fante replies that that is due to the “difficult of identifying investment projects with profitability in line with the objective”.

The case of Parma Social House: a public-private partnership that serves to ensure investors and not the need of social housing

Let’s analyse the case of Parma: in this town in Emilia-Romagna the construction sites of Parma Social House are open, the “first project co-financed” by the FIA with an investment (predicted) of 137.5 million euros aimed at the creation of 852 housing places. However, only 30% will be (truly) aimed at low-rent renters. The “social house” therefore remains in the name of the developer, whose shareholders consist of various building companies and cooperatives. Among these investors in this public-private partnership are the Municipality of Parma (through STT Holding), CFP Investiment Sgr, Fondazione Cariparama, Coopfond-Legacoop. The housing development process which has received a grant of some 3 million euros by the Emilia-Romagna Region, is managed by Polaris Investment Italia Sgr S.p.A.

As soon as the magazine Altreconomia asked Polaris about this information, the funds referred it back to its website. The management savings company has not provided explanations of the choice of “functional mix”, that is to say the percentage of housing being sold and being rented, evasively saying that “it is the basis for the sustainability of the project at the business plan level”.

In other words, creating social housing would not make enough for them and, consequently, even if the need arises, it is not them who will change it.

FIA: crumbs for social housing, the business now sets its sights on industrial wastelands

In light of what is happening in Parma, we can draw some general considerations: despite the huge park of available housing, including nearly 700,000 places built in the last decade and never sold (to find out more, read the book “Salviamo il paesaggio!”, (Save the Landscape!) published by Altreconomia, 2013), 79% of interventions concerning social housing throughout the whole of Italy would involve new construction. In addition, most of the buildings are not intended to be rented for “social rent”: 65% of housing will be sold at a price “under agreement” and rented with a “commitment to future sales”, and only 35% of flats - on average - will provide a solution to the need of permanent housing with regulated rents.

The resources collected by the Fondo Investiment per l’Abitare (FIA) currently total 2 billion 28 million euros, 1 billion coming from the CDP, 140 million for the Ministry and 888 million form the “large groups of banks, insurance and welfare organisations”, of which the identity has not been made public. The Fund’s mission is to support private investors, by guaranteeing up to 80% of the financial resources needed to develop private housing projects. However the “privates” are almost always the same: the CDPI website presents a list composing of 14 of the 15 local real estate funds “set up”: six of them are managed by a single figure, Polaris Investment Italia sgr, and have a goal of comprehensive collection of more than 800 million euros. Polaris Italia is 100% controlled by the Luxembourg law company Polaris Investment S.A., whose referral shareholder is the Cariplo Foundation (it’s president, Giuseppe Guzzetti, is still president of ACRI, the association of banking foundations, partners of CDP in CDP Investments) who controls 48%; 32% is in the hands of institutional investors and 20% falls to ecclesiastical organisations.

Paradoxically: since it’s creation, the FIA has contributed, throughout the country, to the creation of only 560 housings, 1400 are in the process of being built and around 500 are in the beginning phase: very little, compared to the resources available.

The extension of social housing initiatives could start in Lombardy, through interventions of transforming abandoned railway stations by the Italian Railways (Fs), another company controlled by the Ministry of Finance. In fact, on March 28th 2013, CDPI Sgr and Ferrovie dello Stato, owner of these sites, stipulated a “letter of intention” referring to building on land in areas of Lambrate (70,000 square meters in total), Greco-Breda (72,000) and Rogoredo (21,000), all situated in the Milan area, given the interest from the first to build social housing. The CDP funds could contribute to the creation of a thousand flats - “of which the rents could be even less than 500 euros per month” refers Sergio Urbani - where the pure public housing accounts for 5%. The value of these sites that the Fs company has committed to provide is confidential (“Speak about it with CDP Sgr” is what we are suggested to do by Fs’s Sistemi Urbani**)

*  Of these, two hospitals and a former theatre, buildings value by exploiting the possibilities offered by the organisations in modifying their urban vocation. http://www.altreconomia.it/site/fr_contenuto_detail.php?intId=4481

** Taken, in part, from the book “La posta in gioco”, by Luca Martinelli and Antonio Tricarico (Altreconomia edizioni, 2013)

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Louise Wiseman


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