Student loans company: Milan’s age-defying solution to high rents

25th March 2022

Student loans company: Milan's age-defying solution to high rents

Dora Grazzini, 83, and Maria Urbani, 26, in the apartment they share in Milan. Urbani doesn't pay a full rent, but contributes a small fee to cover expenses, and in return Grazzini gets her company.

Dora Grazzini, 83, and Maria Urbani, 26, in the apartment they share in Milan. Urbani doesn't pay a full rent, but contributes a small fee to cover expenses, and in return Grazzini gets her company.

E very evening Dora Grazzini waits for Maria Urbani to return to the sixth-floor apartment they share in an upscale neighbourhood on the outskirts of Milan so they can have dinner together. We seldom meet in the morning, because we have different schedules, but dinnertime is when we chat and tell each other of our days, says Grazzini.

Their routine is not unlike that of many roommates, but differs in one important way: Urbani is 26 and Grazzini, 83.

Urbani came to Milan from Cittadella, a small town of 20,000 near Padua, to study costume tailoring at the Academy of La Scala Theatre. When she was born, Grazzini was already a grandmother. Now a great-grandmother, Grazzini has been living in her apartment since 1957.

Grazzini, a homemaker all her adult life, has lived on a widow's pension since the death of her husband two years ago. After a few months of living alone she began to feel lonely in her apartment, so she joined Prendi in Casa uno Studente (Adopt a Student), a project promoting the cohabitation between students and seniors.

Urbani contributes a small fee to cover expenses but doesn't pay full rent, and in return Grazzini gets her company. Urbani says they are very close: On the weekends when I don't visit my hometown, we spend time together here at home it's such a cozy environment.

In 15 years of offering Adopt a Student, the MeglioMilano association has arranged around 600 cohabitations. The average age of the host is 79; in 76% of cases, the host payday loans Delaware city is, like Grazzini, a woman living in an apartment she owns.

Project manager Monica Bergamasco says it was born in response to two problems: an ageing population with a growing number of seniors living alone, and rents increasing beyond the reach of students. In 2004 we did some research on the housing conditions of the elderly and the impact of the university in the city, she says. We realised there were two problems and we tried to put them together to find a common solution.

By contrast, students taking part in Adopt a Student reimburse their host for expenses: about 250-280

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Urbani says she likes being around seniors: My grandparents and my great-aunt are Dora's age and we used to live in the same building, so I grew up with older people. Before she moved to Milan, Urbani studied fine art in Venice, where she shared an apartment with people of her own age, but they often fought and she didn't like the experience.

Photograph: Marta Clinco

Rent-free accommodation was also an incentive. Milan is the most expensive city in Italy, and one of the most expensive in Europe. With its seven universities, it has a student population of 180,000, of whom 65,000 come from out of town. In theory, the poorest students have the right to a university residence, but there are not enough places available, so only 38% of those entitled to a bed actually get one.

Student rents are also above the national average. While the average cost of a single room in Italy is 402 (?350) per month, in Milan it is 543. Rooms in central areas or located close to university buildings can reach 600 a month.

Urbani says she applied for the programme as soon as she learned about it: What worried me was not Dora's age, but the fear that my application could get rejected. [The cost of ] school tuition is high and I don't know how I could afford to live [in Milan] otherwise.

Grazzini was told of the project by her children, she says, because they did not want me to be alone.

With 13 million people over 65, Italy is the second-oldest country in the world, after Japan. In Milan there are 314,000 senior citizens, mostly women, living in homes that have become big for them and also quite expensive to manage while living on a pension.