Virginio Merola.

Mayor of Bologna, IT

An Interview.
By Karin Zauner. 
Co-Founder of Housing4Europe.Org

Q: What are the main challenges when it comes to affordable, decent and energy-efficient housing in Bologna?

Virginio Merola
The Municipality of Bologna has a remarkable housing stock devoted to social housing; the so-called “public houses” are 12.000 and are assigned to families with very low incomes. In Italy, the earning capacity is calculated through a marker called ISEE (Indicator of Equivalent Economic Situation): for those who live in these houses, it is on average Euro 8.000 or Euro 4.000 if the family is of foreign origin (32% of the total).
On one side, public rentals are calculated according to the income capacity of each household – those who have less, pay less – on the other side, it’s not the same as regards energy consumption (electricity and gas). These houses were built more than 50 years ago, therefore their energy performance os low. That’s the reason why, for greater social equity, and for the main goal that should guide our policies, which is the reduction of carbon emissions, it is necessary to launch an energy renovation plan for these units.

Q: Which measures in the area of affordable housing have been implemented by the city administration?

Virginio Merola
We have been working a lot on this issue during our latest mandate, that is finishing in a few months. We invested Euro 61 million on a plan called “One thousand houses for Bologna”: the construction of new social housing through national funding and faster refurbishment for those that need to be adapted to be given to the families. We also worked a lot on the support to rent on the free market. In particular, in the COVID pandemic period, we supported rentals with Euro 7 million, and 38% of these resources were coming from the municipal budget: an effort never implemented before.

Q: Are you planning to invest in public housing? 

Virginio Merola
This is exactly what we did: investing again in public housing and in this kind of buildings. In 2021 new construction sites for social housing will open, but I also want to add that we need a national plan for housing and I think we don’t have to waste the opportunity that Next Generation EU offers us.

Q: How will Bologna manage to renovate the energy inefficient building stock in order to achieve the climate targets? 

Virginio Merola
Generally speaking, Bologna has recently adopted a new Building Regulation, that is really challenging in terms of ecological and energy-related issues – probably among the most stringent at national level – in order to reach the international goals of reduction of climate-changing emissions by 20230 and 2050.

Regarding our social housing properties, we are about to launch an extraordinary plan for energy upgrading of public buildings, taking advantage of the recent fiscal incentives of the national Government, named “Superbonus 110%”. This plan will involve, in only the next two years, 50 public residential buildings, selected according to their “seniority”, equaling almost 1.300 flats, thus mobilizing approximately 50 million Euro investments.

Q: What kind of support local politicians would need from the EU to be able to increase investments in affordable, decent and energy-efficient housing?

Virginio Merola
Three things that are needed for an effective government: continuity of action, policy coordination, permanent investments in public technical structures.

The first issue calls into play the need of having sufficient economic resources to meet contemporary challenges, but above those resources need to be available continuously, for a length of time not shorter than 10 years, to be able to seriously plan.

The second issue related to the extreme separation existing between energy policies, social policies and economic policies, at all government levels, from the EU to regional governments: we need to foster interdependence, avoiding conflict actions between them, and unfortunately that is what we regularly witness.

Finally, too often we forget that to translate investments into concrete facts – meaning, actions that change the current state of things – the work of public administrations is needed. And they need to be adjusted, as regards size and capability, to the future challenges. In this sense, the new government lead by Mario Draghi announced its willingness to intervene in Public Administration.

Without a proper, strong investment in the technical and administrative structures of public administrations, every effort of renewal by the cities is likely to be vain.