Only Masochists Live in Italy: An Observation on Possible Homelessness

Now before you go getting all uppity and self-righteous about me using the word “homeless” in the title (yes, I am aware that there are actual homeless people living in Italy, and I’m not one of them) I’d just like you to imagine for a minute what life would be like if you were on the imminent edge of, let’s say, losing your home/apartment/cave dwelling/baby momma’s grandma’s house and becoming, as they say in Italy, senza casa.

I realize that for my Italian counterparts, even the mere thought of being without a place to call home is ludicrous, because even the most orphaned of Italians surely have some sort of long-lost uncle that’s got a friend whom they can stay with for awhile, if not an entire undiscovered part of the family who is waiting breathlessly to welcome them into the family fold, chaining those well-worn catholic guilt-stained handcuffs to their blissfully ignorant wrists as the women offer to iron their underpants or at least cook them dinner. But imagine, if you will, being a foreigner or immigrant in a country where the majority of the population was born into a family home and simply never left it. Over the years (and economic cycles), the villas became houses, and the houses became apartments, and some Italians even (gasp!) left their homes and bought new ones further away in the more affordable areas of town, leaving behind the smaller, used apartments in the city center to sit empty and meaningless until the tourist boom hit Italy and suddenly, everyone wanted to live here and the rental market blew through the roof.

I bring your attention to a little-known yet often discussed problem in Florence—the housing crisis. In a city where half of the population seems to be American students who shell out thousands of dollars to universities who cater to their every whim, or foreigners looking to establish a new “home away from home”, finding an apartment in the city center can be as enjoyable as plucking your eyelashes out with red-hot tweezers. I should know—I’ve been frantically looking for a new apartment ever since the clock started ticking on my lease, and I’ve come up completely empty-handed.

You see, part of the problem is me. I know it, and the Italian landlords know it. Being American and a woman, I have a higher standard of acceptable living than most people. For starters, I expect that an apartment on the rental market will have a few basic components to it that enable someone to, in fact, call it an apartment and not a glorified hole. For example, when an Italian landlord describes their apartment as “charming”, we both know that what he really means is “shit-small but in a good area of town”. Or if someone says that their apartment is “unfurnished”, it means that you’re literally going to have to put in all the appliances, oven, stove, toilets, and all the other furniture and junk that goes with living in a habitable environment. These are things that I understand and expect from renting an apartment in Italy.

However, when someone says that an apartment has a full-functioning bathroom, I do not expect to take a shower while sitting on my toilet and brushing my teeth. Nor do I wish to pay two-thirds of my paycheck in order to do so.

Introducing...the scary shower/toilet/sink combo, all in one!
Introducing…the scary shower/toilet/sink combo, all in one!

Also, guys, let’s be honest—the entire selling point of an apartment is in the photos, right? I mean, you wouldn’t think that someone would put up a shitty looking picture of their apartment if they wanted it to get rented…right?

blurry bathroom pic scary apartment 1

These are actual apartments in Florence, everyone. And these landlords are laughing their asses off all the way to the bank with your security deposit, because no self-respecting Italian would put up with this shit in a million years, and everyone knows it but you.

So while I’ve contemplated which cardboard box I’ll be using to set up camp underneath the Ponte Vecchio once I get kicked out of this place I’m at now, I’m content with the fact that I won’t give up on my pursuit of the perfect apartment.  If I have to rompere a few palle on my way towards the top, so be it. Maybe one day I’ll start a legacy of apartment rentals so kick-ass, I’ll be like the Damon Pope of Florence.

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9 thoughts on “Only Masochists Live in Italy: An Observation on Possible Homelessness

  1. Oh gina, I know how you feel. I remember when I was looking for an apartment not that long ago and what I saw was horrendous, basically the biggest shit holes you can imagine with no end in site. One was even in an elderly woman’s home which had all of her stuff still inside, including the ‘room’ I would be renting. God! If you want to do a little apartment searching together this weekend, I would be happy to help!

  2. Those photos are terrifying. It is scary getting used to what they consider acceptable housing here. When my husband and I first moved into our place, it was considered “furnished” but it was like a house of horrors and we had to throw everything out. Hope you find what you are looking for!

  3. Interesting post but it definitely is not making me look forward to look for an apartment next year (I plan on arriving there next spring). I am looking forward to a follow-up on this post.

  4. This is why you buy a house, or flat. OR… hire a real estate agent to find you a good home. There are a lot of new builds and at the end of the day if you plan to live in Italy for 5 or more years purchasing a home makes more sense. That can be said to anyone in the USA as well. Over a lifetime you’re going to spend 500k more renting than owning. Now… I’ve never rented in Italy, and I’ve never owned a home in Italy… I have heard some horror stories when it comes to purchasing a home in southern Italy… but really. No matter how you slice the cake owning or paying for something you will own is always going to make more sense. You can find many new homes and what not. I personally want to own a small place in italy at some point in my life.. who doesn’t, right? I can tell you i’ve been living in the same apartment in the US for 3 years now and I look how much I’ve already given them and I cringe because it’ll never be mine. As a millennial I’m part of the generation of is afraid to commit to a long term purchase… but it is making more and more since state side at least. Italian government bonds did better than most bonds in 2014. So there is something good going on over there that remains to be seen by most.

    With the Euro being down as well.. its becoming more attractive and becoming more of a buyers market.. and it will continue to become MORE of a buyers market as we progress through 2015. Looking at those photos, I would never rent that place, nor would I buy it. Unless I had no option. Just remember the power is in your hands to get the best deal. Just my two cents.

    1. Buying in Florence is almost as difficult as buying in NYC. On the plus side, places like the center of Florence will never devalue, so eventually selling will be a profit. However, with all of the taxes, it is very hard to own a home unless it is a handed down family place. Take my previous Italian neighbor. She was an old lady on a pension (600 euros a month or so) and she would often cry about paying the taxes on her home that she bought years ago…..couldn’t make housing taxes on top of her regular bills.
      Also, price….a friend of mine sold her dark and ugly apartment on Via Sant Egidio 2 years ago…..it was 45 square meters, the bedroom looked over at the neighbor’s bedroom, the bathroom was attached to said bedroom (therefore, guests would pass through your bedroom to use the bathroom) and the kitchen/soggiorno was very dark and depressing, lack of natural light. She sold that shithole for 250,000 euros. That’s right…..250,000 euros for 45 square meters of ugly….Her parents bought it 5 years prior for 195k. So, yeah, it went up in value…..but buyers….beware.

  5. Oh my! This is awful! Im currently looking for my “dream home” in Rome. Well, Im headed there in a couple weeks to start the serarch but this is scary to say the least. What is the answer to this? Do you find a crapy apartment and pay to fix it up yourself? Wow! My head just started hurting thinking of this

  6. I stayed in an apartment in Vicolo del Barbi. 20min walk away from city center. I loved it. I’m not sure if it’s available and in your price range but it definitely looks better than the photos here (furnished, shower and toilet separate). Good luck!

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