A law for regulation of the activity of short-term rental and the protection of residents in cities with high housing pressure
By Giovanni Leone
9 March 2022
Last November, director Andrea Segre offered the city a free screening of the film Welcome Venice, which is set on Giudecca, and tells the story of the conflict between two brothers over the choice to convert the family home into a tourist rental and give up living in Venice. The screening was followed by a lively debate, and this was followed up by the work of a group of citizen associations and committees, which resulted in the drafting of a bill for the regulation of the activity of short-term rentals for tourist use.
The bill was presented on Sunday at the Toniolo Theater of Mestre, where a second free screening was offered, recognizing that the consequences of short-term rentals, albeit in different degrees and ways, is not confined to the lagoon city and islands, but is spreading in the cities on the mainland. It is not only a Venetian problem but has repercussions on territories and areas surrounding historic centers all over, removing significant numbers of homes available for rental to residents from the market. The problem is being particularly felt in cities with high housing pressure where the tourism market is greater, and it is at these cities that the bill is aimed. Its purpose is to mitigate the damaging effects on the real estate markets of communities with high housing pressure provoked by the uncontrolled expansion of tourist rentals.
This is not a proposal against someone or something, but for residential housing and for protecting the survival of the social fabric of the cities. There is no desire to penalize anyone, but rather to regulate a sensitive matter to mitigate the undesirable effects produced by the absence of limits to the spread of what is now often an accommodation business. Born as a form of sharing economy, with exchanges of homes between residents of different and distant countries, it has grown beyond measure, to the point of becoming an important and prevalent ungoverned economic activity.
This allows conducting de facto entrepreneurial activity, even if there are no licenses issued and the zoning of the properties remains residential. There is no zoning change required even when it involves entire buildings. Some of these businesses respect the original spirit, with family – not corporate – management, meant to increase the family income and sustain the costs necessary for living in Venice. But in many other cases people leave their homes to live in cities on the mainland where the costs are lower. Because there are no limits to the expansion of this market, the phenomenon has grown uncontrollably, unbalancing the housing market for residents. The freedom to maneuver has benefitted big agencies and corporations, even on the international scale, in whose hands is concentrated the vast majority of this type of rental. The consequence? A drastic reduction of access to the market for rental homes for residents.
The ambition of the promoters of this initiative is the join a bottom-up process from the civic level of associations and committees with that of politics in general, together with that of the metropolitan and regional administrations, and go to Parliament. There is not much time, because in addition to the emergencies that have relentlessly continued since the onset of the new millennium, there is the imminent election season. This complicates the margins for maneuvering and reduces the time available for a political action that must be broadened as much as possible to be truly effective.
We need to be willing to overcome the logic of opposition between political factions in favor of a political convergence on higher-order social demands. The civic network of associations wanted to make its own contribution, putting a concrete and viable proposal on the table which can be implemented within precise general boundaries, and which provides the possibility of adapting the proposal to the particular needs of each location.
The spirit is positive and proactive, not a philosophical exercise nor a way to replace politics, but rather an exhortation to politics, to gather the demands, supporting and offering a proposal about which expressions of interest have come from important cities such as Florence, Milan, Padua, Rome, and Naples, in addition to getting the attention of Luigi Brugnaro. The Mayor of Venice claims he shares the approach of the citizen associations and is calling for unity on an issue of great economic and social important that concerns us all and that we must confront and resolve together.
From the stage of the Toniolo, director Andrea Segre had hoped to meet him, reviving the dialogue that is the salt of politics, instead of the monologues that are the prerogative of an authoritarian and personalistic conception of politics. Politics has the city in its etymological roots: polis.
It is not helpful to linger over useless controversies. The proposal calls for political will and commitment to develop a discussion on more levels, from civic and social to the political, to the local and national administrations, and perhaps even European and international.
Now we must quickly organize occasions for dialogue, deepening and refinement, on one hand with Mayors and administrators of the big cities, to broaden the discussion to the national level, and, on the other hand, in local communities, involving all the citizen components and overseeing mature and constructive participatory processes. There is also a declared desire to develop these processes at the European and national level. In times of conflict working together for a political solution that is a synthesis would be an important signal: let’s give that signal by building a new alliance between society and politics.
Giovanni Leone is an architect living in Venice, the city of his choice (having wanted to live in this house in the form of a city) and adoption (after having landed there from the other end of Italy), where he was welcomed: first in the community of out-of-town students, and migrants/inhabitants, who metabolize and spread around the world the awareness that a different way of life, on a human scale, is possible; later welcomed in the Venetian community, especially among the populace, introduced to the pleasures of the lagoon, the culture of land (gardens and fields) and water (boats and fishing) and islands; before, during and after, from a habitat that is an environmental and social context to be worn as a dress in whose pockets the spirit of the place is deposited.