Italy's central bank sees sharp rise in rents amid student housing protests

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By Federico Maccioni and Alvise Armellini

MILAN/ROME (Reuters) - Italy is experiencing a surge in rent prices, the country's central bank said on Tuesday, against the backdrop of growing student protests over the rising cost of living in big cities.

A combination of low salaries, a shortage of housing, the spread of short-term holiday rentals and relentless inflation has resulted in a housing crisis particularly affecting students and low-wage earners.

"Current and future rent prices are reported to be rising sharply," the Bank of Italy said in its survey of the housing market in the first quarter of 2023, based on interviews with about 1,500 real estate agents.

Students across Italy have started sleeping in tents in some of the big cities to draw attention to the problem.

According to the Bank of Italy study, conducted between early January and early February, the gap between agents who expect rental prices to rise and those who expect them to go down is the highest since records began, at 45.9 percentage points, suggesting rent prices are likely to continue to rise.

Separate data from property portal Idealista showed rents jumped nationwide by 10.1% year-on-year in April, hitting a record 12.5 euros ($13.8) per square metre. In Milan, one of Italy's most expensive cities, the average is 22 euros per square metre.

The lack of affordable housing in Milan prompted a student to sleep in a tent outside her university for a few days this month, in a symbolic protest that has since been replicated in other university towns like Bologna, Rome and Naples.

Ilaria Lamera, who used to spend two hours commuting each way from her house in the Bergamo province, said she had often encountered attempted scams or poor housing before finally finding a room in Milan.

Speaking to Reuters camped in her tent, she urged regional authorities to "build new student residence halls, or provide incentives to home owners to persuade them to rent to students rather than platforms such as Airbnb".

In a first response, the government has announced an extra 660 million euros for student housing, while Tourism Minister Daniela Santanche is drafting a law to regulate short-term rentals, which some blame for pushing up prices in city centres.

($1 = 0.9084 euros)

(Editing by Deepa Babington)