In many large towns and cities finding an affordable flat is a major problem. Rome is no exception. While there are many people who do not succeed in finding housing, there exist, at the same time, many empty apartments and there are many public buildings that are abandoned and unused.
In a lot of places squatters have had a bad reputation, and not without reason. Stories of "hippies" barricading themselves into buildings, causing problems in and degrading the neighbourhood, and leaving buildings in worse condition than they found them are frequent.
However, some squatters in Rome have a different, more constructive, mentality.
The cooperative Il Corallo currently occupies a building in Rome in Via San Tommaso d'Aquino. This was the site of an SCI workcamp in October 96.
The building in S. Tommaso is a six story block, owned by the regional administration, that used to be government offices and has been abandoned for over twenty years. The cooperative has occupied the building since November 95 and is in the process of restructuring and repairing the building to make it properly habitable.
The building has been divided into 23 flats and features rooms for social and community purposes in the basement. The occupants, which include young and old and range from students to skilled professionals, are putting their own money and labour into the rebuilding project. Cost efficient and environmentally conscious building techniques are an additional aim of the cooperative.
The cooperative is also trying to come to an agreement with the owners of the building, the regional government, over its future. The region seems to acknowledge that this self-help approach is a possible solution to the housing problem in Rome, evidenced by the fact that the occasional visit from the authorities concentrates on checking that improvements are really happening, and that the cooperative has been invited to give presentations to the administration.
Additionally, the work of the cooperative has been documented in detail over 23 pages in a book on public residential housing compiled by the region's assessor of urban development and housing and published by the regional government. (La Sperimentazione nell'Edilizia Residenziale Pubblica Sovvenzionata, Assessorato Urbanistica e Casa, Regione Lazio, via del Giorgione, 129/163 - 00147 Roma. ISBN 88.7722.516.5)
Rome also features about 30 Social Centres. These are other abandoned buildings that have been occupied and turned into affordable meeting places for the average citizen in expensive, tourist filled, Rome. They include old schools, factories, theatres, and even a fort. These social centres organise and run concerts, discos, plays and other theatrical acts, dance classes for all ages, and other events, as well as being venues for general social gatherings.