A House for One Euro
Few headlines allow you to dream quite like the announcement of ownership of a house in an Italian village for just 1 Euro. Is it too good to be true?
It is genuine, and has been evolving for the last few years in Italy, although this year it seems to have grown in popularity. The catch? You need to invest to renovate the property and can’t resell it for a number of years. But there is a reason why these small towns have decided effectively to give away these assets – gradual depopulation as more and more local people chase opportunities in larger cities. Towns were left almost ghost-like, with an ageing population and decaying housing, which the municipalities didn’t have the budget to support and maintain.
The first initiative of this kind was carried out by maverick art critic and outspoken celebrity turned politician, Vittorio Sgarbi. For the past 30 years Sgarbi has been seen weekly on various talk shows on a number of the endless Italian TV stations professing his opinion on anything and everything in-between dance skits of wannabe young starlets. For anyone who has seen the Oscar winning movie La Grande Bellezza or has been stuck in a hotel room flipping the remote in search of something half decent to watch on Italian television, this should be familiar. If you’ve ever found yourself in such a situation, chances are you saw Sgarbi, given how ubiquitous his presence has been since Berlusconi decided to take to the field of Italian politics back in 1994. In one of Sgarbi’s lower profile appointments, he was elected mayor of the small town of Salemi, in South-West Sicily, where to encourage the revival of the town centre, the 1 euro house policy was trialed. Salemi had experienced a terrible earthquake in 1968, but the physical damage to the housing infrastructure became far worse once the local population started to leave – they say few things are harder than maintaining an empty house. The 1 euro house policy was introduced to restore and revitalise the housing as much as to revive the town centre.
And perhaps this is the key to decide if a 1 euro house is too good to be true. Do people who will buy these houses actually go to live in these towns? Does it really impact repopulation? While some towns have been successful in gaining interest (such as Gangi in Sicily or Ollolai in Sardinia), it is hard to imagine that places that lost 50 percent of their population over a few decades will be transformed by the influx of a few dozen expats. If you are looking for an inexpensive change of life however, this could be an amazing solution.
Salemi incidentally never managed to get the 1 euro house policy actually operative despite much interest, and Sgarbi was endited (though eventually acquitted), and left his position to further his tv fame. But his idea continues to grow across more and more towns in Italy and beyond.