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MILAN

How Milan’s ‘new poor’ are struggling to afford food amid the pandemic

After a year of the coronavirus crisis, even the wealthiest parts of Italy are seeing a sharp rise in poverty rates.

How Milan's 'new poor' are struggling to afford food amid the pandemic
People queue at a food bank in Milan on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Since coronavirus swept across Italy a year ago, the line outside Milan’s Pane Quotidiano charity has grown and grown.

READ ALSO: Poverty rises to 15-year high in Italy amid coronavirus crisis

“I’m ashamed to be here. But otherwise I would have nothing to eat,” said Giovanni Altieri, 60, who has been coming every day since the nightclub where he worked was shut under virus regulations.

“I had a good salary, but I’m at rock bottom here. I have no income and live off my savings,” he told AFP.

Every day, 3,500 people turn up at the two distribution points run in Milan by the charity, which hands out surplus food it receives from a range of organisations, as well as through individual donations.

People queue for bags of food at a charity food bank in Milan on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Milan is the centre of Italy’s industrial north, and one of the richest cities in Europe. But as the pandemic has battered the country, poverty rates in the area have soared.

Some of those standing in line hide their faces with a scarf or bag, fearful of being recognised.

Many leave with several packages – one for each member of their family. Inside, there is milk, yoghurt, cheese, biscuits, sugar, tuna, a kiwi, a tiramisu and some bread.

Such sights were once rare on the streets of Milan, but across the wealthy north of Italy, more than 720,000 people have fallen below the poverty line in the last year.

Throughout Italy, the number of people in poverty jumped by one million in 2020 to 5.6 million, a 15-year high, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Italian non-profit association Pane Quotidiano (Daily bread) gives out food in Milan, on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Poverty rates are higher in the south, which has long been poorer, but at 11.1 percent, compared to 9.4 percent in the north, the gap is narrowing.

“The queues have increased with Covid, there are more young people and more undeclared workers who have no right to social benefits,” said Claudio Falavigna, a 68-year-old volunteer at Pane Quotidiano, which has been running for 123 years.

“And there are also members of the middle classes, from the world of entertainment and events,” he said.

He recognises them “as they still dress well, they are elegant – it’s a question of dignity”.

Pre-pandemic, the region of Lombardy, which includes Milan, accounted for 22 percent of Italy’s GDP.

In 2019, the region had a per capita income of 39,700 euros (47,000 dollars) a year – well above the European average.

But it was also the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak last year that knocked Italy off its feet, and has so far left more than 100,000 people dead.

“The shock of the pandemic reduced to zero the revenues of many categories of workers, notably the self-employed, who number many in the towns of the north,” David Benassi, professor of sociology at the Bicocca University in Milan, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Why are so many women unemployed in Italy – and what’s being done about it?

And although a new citizenship income for the lowest paid came into effect in 2019 and is widespread in the south of Italy, many in the north often fall through the cracks of state support.

“Many families who fell into poverty in 2020 don’t fulfil the income and asset requirements,” said Benassi.

The worst hit are women and young people, who often have precarious jobs, noted Mario Calderini, professor of social innovation at Milan Polytechnic. 

“Women have paid a heavy price in this crisis, as have families with underage children,” he said.

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PROPERTY

Where in Italy are house prices rising fastest?

Property values are expected to continue rising overall in Italy in 2023, but the situation looks much better in some cities than others. Here's how average prices compare.

Where in Italy are house prices rising fastest?

Until 2020 Italy’s real estate market had long suffered stagnation, weighed down by a large number of old, neglected properties which were proving difficult to sell.

But the pandemic turned Italy’s property market on its head, leading to the first increase in house prices for years at the end of the first quarter of 2020.

This trend has held up since, and industry experts cautiously predict further price growth in 2023 – albeit more modest than previously hoped.

Factors putting the brakes on growth include the soaring cost of living eroding households’ purchasing power, rising mortgage interest rates, the soaring cost of building materials, and a shrinking economy.

REVEALED: Where in Europe have house prices and rent costs increased the most?

Mortgages are also expected to become more difficult to obtain in 2023, meaning fewer people able to make a purchase.

But despite the gloomy picture overall, the outlook varies significantly around the country and some cities are expected to see a significant rise in prices this year.

Milan remains by far the most expensive major Italian city for a property purchase, but prices are rising faster elsewhere. Photo by Ron Dylewski on Unsplash

A recent report from Idealista Insights, the property search portal’s research team, looked at changes in the average prices per square metre in property listings in Italy’s biggest cities.

In 2022, the price per square metre “generally increased throughout the country, with ‘exclusive’ neighbourhoods becoming even more inaccessible to the average buyer,” the report found.

But, while bigger northern cities saw rising prices across the board, most southern cities were struggling with “stagnation”, it said.

Based on Idealista’s data, here are the ten most expensive cities to buy property in Italy, in order of the rate at which prices are rising.

  1. Genoa: the Ligurian capital is Italy’s tenth-most expensive city to live in – but prices here are rising faster than anywhere else on average, according to Idealista. An increase of 4.5 percent is forecast for Genoa in 2023, meaning the price per square metre will go from 1,602 to 1,674 euros.
  2. Bologna: Bologna records the second-highest price increase in Italy compared to 2022. The citywide average price per square metre will rise by an estimated 3.9 percent, reaching 3,419 euros.
  3. Verona: in seventh place we find the city of Romeo and Juliet, where the increase in prices is substantial, equal to 3.2 percent. The average cost will rise by around 80 euros per square metre, going from 2,483 to 2,563 euros per square metre.
  4. Milan: Italy’s economic capital will easily remain the most expensive city for property purchases, with prices set to rise by 2.9 percent compared to 2022. The average price per square metre is expected to exceed 5,300 euros, 150 more than now, with significant price variation between city districts.
  5. Bari: The capital of Puglia in the south-east is set to record an price increase of 2.8 percent, with the citywide average price per square metre going from 1,909 euros to 1,962 – making it the ninth most expensive Italian city in which to buy property and the only southern city to record a significant increase. 
  6. Turin: The northwestern city can expect an overall price increase of 1.5 percent, equal to around 30 euros more per square metre for a final price of 1,979 euros on average. 
  7. Florence: The Tuscan capital still has the second-highest prices, and can expect an average price increase of 1.4 percent, with the cost per square metre to rise from 4,128 to 4,184 euros .
  8. Rome: The capital may have some highly sought-after and expensive districts, but overall average prices will remain at around 3,336 euros, up slightly from 3,360 in 2022. This is equal to an increase of just 0.76 percent.
  9. Venice: La Serenissima remains the fifth-most expensive city to buy property again this year as the average price will remain almost unchanged with a reduction of -0.3 percent, meaning the cost per square metre will be around 3,090 euros.
  10. Naples: The southern capital is set to go against the trend, with a -1.5 percent drop in house prices expected. This means the average price per square metre will go from 2,737 to 2,696 euros, a difference of 41 euros.
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