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Conflict & Justice

Squatters occupy Venice homes in housing protest as tourism surges

Squatters are taking over unoccupied buildings in Venice in defiance of what they say are high rents forcing families out of the city as tourism takes over.

Patrizia Zaniol, 56, walks in the Casette neighborhood where she lives in her illegally occupied apartment in Venice. The banner reads "We are not leaving because we love Venice."

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Venice's population has declined rapidly from roughly 175,000 after World War II to about 50,000 today. Remaining residents complain that their city is being overrun by tourists while they have to pick up the bill for cleaning and security.

Around 25 million tourists pour into the Italian lagoon city each year, of whom around 14 million spend just one day there. It has close to 8,000 Airbnb apartments catering for those who stay longer, soaking up the attractions around the canals.

A young boy is shown in the nearground of the photo holding up a fork with his father sitting in the background eating from a plate of food.

Spokesman of Social Assembly for the House (ASC) Nicola Ussardi, 41, eats dinner in his illegally occupied apartment in Venice, Italy.

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Nicola Ussardi, 41, co-founder of a housing community group that helps Venetians find homes, has been squatting in an apartment in the Cannaregio district since 2013, with his partner Nadia and their two children.

He says many houses remain empty as people are forced to move out and then cannot afford the upkeep of the properties in order to rent them out — although the city housing authority says the activists are preventing the renovation of homes by occupying them.

A man in a gray sweater is shown standing next to a souvenir stand helping a woman customer.

Nicola Ussardi helps a customer at a souvenir stand where he works near St.Mark's square in Venice.

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

"There are no houses for the rich or for the less rich, not even for the poor. There are no houses available in Venice unless you are a tourist," said Ussardi, who runs a souvenir stall near St. Mark's square.

Ussardi earns between 800-1,300 euros a month ($900-$1,450) from his stall. Most rents for a family of four in central Venice are above 900 euros a month.

Alessandro Dus is show leaning out of a second story open window with a phone in his left hand.

Alessandro Dus, 34, talks on the phone in his illegally occupied apartment in the Casette neighborhood in Venice. The banner reads "Don't touch the Giudecca. More houses, less hotels."

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Alessandro Dus, 34, has been occupying an apartment for two years.

"We want to fight against the thousands of closed abandoned apartments in Venice, when we move to an abandoned apartment we renovate it and we make it habitable again," he said.

Alessandro Dus is shown through graffiti-painted doors, sitting on a bed reading a book.

Alessandro Dus reads a book in his illegally occupied apartment.

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

A note on line paper is seen on a white refrigerator with "Sfratto 24 Settembre" written on it.

A note with the date of the next scheduled eviction is seen on the fridge of Alessandro Dus' illegally occupied apartment. "24th of September is the date they will come to try to evict me from the apartment. I need to be home when they arrive," Dus said.

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Venetians do not want to end tourism — a huge revenue earner — but like many hotspots now looking to address the challenges from a surge in visitors, they are working out how numbers can be controlled and how locals might be able to stay in the city.    

A man is seen through a sticker-covered doorway, leaning up against a dresser and smoking a cigarette.

Pasquale Ambrogio, 33, smokes a cigarette in his illegally occupied apartment in Venice. "I moved to this apartment seven years ago. I can't afford to pay a rent in Venice but I don't want to leave the city. I consider myself a resisting citizen," Ambrogio said.

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

This year, Venice council voted to impose an entrance fee for visitors to help pay for the upkeep of the much-visited World Heritage Site and maybe help limit the numbers.

A young man wearing a mustache, dark rimmed and a t-shirt and jeans is shown sitting at a table with food sitting out.

Pasquale Ambrogio sits outside his illegally occupied apartment during a lunch organized by squatters in Venice.

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

While acknowledging that "Venice risks extinction", regional housing agency chief Raffaele Speranzon denounced the squatters for taking matters into their own hands, saying they are jeopardizing the fair allocation of homes.

A man is shown in a button down shirt standing in a brown wooden doorframe.

Carlo Spinazzi, 59, looks on in his illegally occupied apartment in Venice.

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Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

"We have funds which come to us from the region in order to maintain these buildings but frequently we can’t use this money because the houses are occupied. In effect these are houses extracted from the community," he said. "Often they are passed out between friends, ignoring people who want to follow the rules or request apartments in a legal manner. It is like jumping the queue at the check-out till."

A cracker and peanut butter snack snack is seen on the table with a red table cloth.

A snack is seen on the table of Carlo Spinazzi's kitchen, in his illegally occupied apartment. "I am living with some savings I got from the closing-down sale of my shop that went bankrupt one year ago and from a family loan. But I am running out of money and I can't find a new job as I am considered too old," Spinazzi said. 

Credit:

Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

By Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Reporting by Guglielmo Mangiapane; Writing by Eleanor Biles; Editing by Alison Williams.

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