DAR=CASA (DC) cooperative society, already mentioned above, deserves further attention. It is a housing cooperative with shared ownership, funded in 1991 to give a home to immigrant workers settling in Milan. As the time went by, the target group was widened, including also Italians in need, who can not afford to rent a house in the market. Nowadays, DC is engaged in two missions: (1) regeneration of public real estate or construction of new buildings to be rented at subsidized price to people in need (their core business, where they have a long-lasting expertise); (2) management of social issues in apartment blocks and neighbourhoods involved in social projects.
Within the first mission, renewal of (underused) existing public estate is preferred to the construction of new buildings, since it is less expensive and more suitable for a small-sized cooperative society. In these cases, privileged partners are the Department for Metropolitan Area – Municipality of Milan, and the Regional Agency for Public Social Housing (ALER).
The latter mission is quite a new field for DC. Only recently they engaged with two projects: Cenni Changes (mentioned above) and ‘Social Residence’ (20 flats for people in need whose management has been entrusted to DC after a tender issued by the Municipality of Milan). So, the first one is a project involving a great network of private and public partners (as said above) while the second is an action promoted solely by public actors. In these projects DC is responsible for forms of community development and social participation, promoting social mix and activation of diverse urban populations.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
DC was created with a specific attention on migrants’ right to decent housing and related problems. Nowadays DC interest shifted toward all people in need, covering different kinds of disadvantage: e.g. people in economic hardship, asylum seekers, immigrants, evicted people. Each need has its own treatment and specific rental regime. Thus, diversity is under scrutiny mainly as a condition of disadvantage. Though, CA’s attention for fostering social cohesion, empowering relational skills of to-be tenants, and providing spaces of encounter and social inclusion in building blocks they manage or build show also an attention to potentialities of diversity (if properly managed). Diversity management is more and more considered in recent projects issued by DC.
Main factors influencing success and failure
According to DC vice-president, the strength of DC’s projects is the attention on social dimensions of housing disadvantage: the factor behind successful action is an understanding of estate management not only as a business, that grounds an attention to the needs of dwellers. As a consequence, the attention for social issues turns anyway into an economic advantage, since tenants’ solvency increased and the blocks are looked after properly. The neighbourhoods DC manages have a low rate of late payments (also thanks to lower rents), and DC vice-president maintains that this is due to good terms kept with tenants. In her words:
“ Definitely, the theme of social management (hence, of paying attention to the inhabitant rather than to the practicalities related to the estate issue) brings some benefits from a lot of points of view, first of all that of arrearage. I mean, notwithstanding the difficult conditions of the families we deal with, as we constructed an intervention […] based on the relation with the dweller, we are able to contain the arrears within some limits.”
The main weakness, similar to the one reported for ‘Cenni Changes’, is the lack of an effective framework of housing policy and of a structural and consistent action by public actors. Social housing is mainly limited to scanty, small-scale, short-term experiments and projects that limit their effectiveness and impact. Since the experimental housing projects are usually located in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and blocks, such a weak investment may negatively affect the success of the projects themselves.
The initiatives implemented by DC aim to foster social cohesion and economic performance of people in disadvantaged conditions. DC tries to reach this goal providing housing with cheap rents and/or managing diversity and social issues together with housing problems – that also increases disposable income of target groups. Given the crisis and the attention that the public actors are paying to the regeneration and renewal of existing building stock, the way DC manages blocks is likely to provide a viable solution to social and economic management of public housing. As mentioned for the previous case, a decisive value added is the capacity to achieve a proper long-term sustainability of the measure: the scale of the project and the network of actors involved can be a positive factor in this respect.