Renovation

An apartment for less than the price of an espresso

Deborah 'Debbie' Kelly Spillane
Deborah Kelly Spillane
20 May 2021
€1 housing, Taranto Palazzo, municipality building, public building

While people in many parts of the world despair at the price of city centre property, in the Italian city of Taranto, apartments are going for the bargain price of just one euro ($1.20). This cut-price property is part a radical plan to breathe new life into a city facing depopulation.

Walk around the city centre and you are instantly struck by the paradox of Taranto. It has historic architecture, charming alleys, an attractive Mediterranean location and panoramic sea views. Yet in the historical centre of the city or “old town”, as it is referred to, abandoned apartments and boarded-up shops reveal a decline in the fortunes of this once thriving maritime city.

The brain drain

The downturn started back in 1975 when the building market collapsed. Faced with an uncertain future, young people simply packed up and left the city in search of jobs and better living conditions elsewhere. In 2006 the situation took another turn for the worse as Municipality of Taranto was declared bankrupt. The city was left struggling with the dual problems of unemployment and a fast-shrinking economy as well as growing environmental concerns.

When Mayor Rinaldo Melucci too office he made an analysis of what was lost from a demographic point of view. It was clear that young people, higher income families and professionals were looking elsewhere for their future.

“Houses at one Euro”

To reverse this downward spiral, Mayor Melucci and the regional government decided to take drastic action. Taranto was in dire need of new residents and the city could offer a solution to one of the biggest challenges of our time – affordable housing. With 13,000 apartments standing empty, the city would sell an apartment for the symbolic price of one euro, located in the “old town” to anyone willing to move to Taranto and commit to becoming part of the local community. This was the essence of the “Houses at One Euro” campaign.

The repopulation experiment started in August 2020 with seven apartments put on the market with a one-euro price tag. News of these bargain apartments spread fast and offers flooded in from all over the world. Suddenly the dream of living “la dolce vita” in Italy was within reach for pretty much everyone. And let’s be honest, who hasn’t dreamed of waking up each day in an old Italian town to the sound of church bells and wandering down to a local café for an authentic cappuccino?  

But before you start packing your bags, you should know that the campaign has a built-in selection process. To be considered for an apartment, you need to have a sustainable renovation project in mind for your new home, be willing to take permanent residency in the city and commit to living in Taranto for at least five years. This vetting keeps out hard-nosed property investors and brings in people ready to contribute to rejuvenating the city and becoming part of the local community.

Renovation funding

If you’re still dreaming of moving to an old apartment in Taranto, you can also enjoy generous tax breaks on the renovation work thanks to  the recently launched Italian Superbonus tax credit scheme lets you claim back a whopping 110% of the expenses related to energy efficiency measures and reducing seismic risk to your home. If you do not have the funds upfront you can pass the credit over to a financial institution and get the work done basically for free. From improving energy efficiency through sustainable stone wool insulation or installing photovoltaic energy systems to strengthening the building structure, all Italian homeowners can benefit from state aid to help make their buildings fit for future generations.  For the new residents in Taranto, this has further helped to incentivize renovation and channel money back into the local economy via the building work.

An optimistic future

To date, “Houses for One Euro” has proven a great success. While many of us worry about mortgage repayments and commuting distances, the first wave of new residents in Taranto is making plans for the future. They are already investing in sustainable renovation projects, meeting their new neighbours and becoming part of the local community.

For urban planners, this radical scheme may provide a simple solution for the growing issue of depopulation: Make the housing available to dynamic citizens and let their commitment and energy inject a new lease of life to the city.

In time, Mayor Melucci expects his campaign “Houses for One Euro” to bring 25,000 new residents to the historic Mediterranean city. Only time will tell if the campaign delivers the results the city needs. We’re looking forward to coming back to find out!