Rome Suburb in Uproar as Roma Family Given Housing

All eyes are on the Casal Bruciato outskirt of the Italian capital, which has been marred by violent protests being stoked by the extreme-right wing association CasaPound.

Protesters have claimed they are demonstrating against a Roma family being placed on the housing estate, although it seems clear that multifaceted problems could explain the protests.

Violent protests against a background of hate speech

Problems started in the beginning of April, in the eastern Rome suburb of Casal Bruciato, when local residents started voicing their displeasure about a project to welcome a family of Roma people to the council estate. Protesters claimed that they did not want “gypsies here", and that the house "must be assigned to an Italian”. The protest occurred under the aegis of the extreme-right association CasaPound. The Prosecutor of Rome has since convicted people for “racial discrimination” because one of the protesters screamed “I’ll rape you” to the mother of the Roma family. Italian associations and NGOs have deplored the “excessive tolerance” of the authorities in tackling threats to the Roma family from CasaPound members.

The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, went to visit the Roma family and declared that "The law is the same for all, both when it is expressed through sanctions and penalties, and when, in this case, it manifests itself, because the necessary requirements have been verified, with the assignment of economic and social housing”.

Italy facing a housing emergency

Arguments about Roma people being given priority over "Italian" people are regularly used to justify protests like these. However, a 2012 regulation that sets the parameters for the inclusion of applications in the waiting list, and which is still in force, does not refer to Roma people being preferred.

These events shine a light on the hot topic of emergency housing in Italy. The inefficiency of the Italian system in housing domains is an important problem. Many leaders of Italian cities have deplored the “housing emergency” (emergenza abitativa). This phenomenon highlights the inadequacy between needs of applicants and the availability of council housing. The Italian capital is not immune from this problem. In 2016 the architect Enrico Puccini published a book entitled Towards Policies for Better Housing (Verso una politica per la Casa) which highlighted that there is not enough public housing for all applicants that request it.

The decision to provide a housing place to a Roma family with 12 children was, on one hand, the straw that broke the camel's back and on the other, an opportunity for extreme-right organisations to redouble their efforts to express their discontent.

The protests underline problems that have been swept under the rug and highlight how out of control they have become. Against a background of increased hate speech before the European Parliament elections, the protests also illustrate the turmoil that Italian society is currently facing and how divided the country is.