Co-Housing Much More Than Roof over Head

Italian young women and women with refugee background sharing apartment.

Co-housing is a pilot project that allows us to experiment with cohabitation of Italians and foreigners, mostly refugees, in an apartment made available free of charge by the Astalli Center, in collaboration with an institute for women leading a consecrated life.

During the year 2019-2020 it was carried out by 2 Italian university students and 3 refugee workers, one of whom had a child. The foreign women came from Cameroon, Congo and Ghana. This year the project takes on a different characteristic because it has been adapted to suit male university students, 2 Italians and 3 refugees, from Afghanistan, Congo and Gambia.

The central node of the project was and is the sharing of housing. It provides the starting point an equal relationship between those who live there, as well as co-responsibility in all aspects of the project. The aim is to offer the possibility of mutual enrichment, as a result of the exchange between different cultures and life paths, as well as, for university students, the possibility of continuing their studies in an atmosphere of serenity. Furthermore, through direct knowledge and the sharing of everyday life, we want to promote integration into the social fabric of the city, recreate an intimate and family-like dimension and help establish new friendships.

The possibility of living for a certain period in an apartment in Rome without having to bear the costs of a rent, paying only a monthly contribution as a share in the costs of the project (utilities, condominium, any other needs), also offers beneficiaries a concrete saving opportunity in order to facilitate the achievement of economic independence.

The first experience of the co-housing project ended last summer,  and the university students have now lived together half a year. They are all very enthusiastic about this adventure that makes them undoubtedly feel like brothers, united by the desire to study and reach a common goal, and at the same time they are curious to share a whole year with peers who have very different life experiences.

Centro Astalli is convinced that projects of this type have a very strong cultural and social value, which goes beyond the mere benefit for those who participate directly in the project. In fact, we believe that we are experimenting, in a small way, with a model of coexistence that can offer us important and simple elements to understand the richness of the encounter between human beings.

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Sister Maria Jose Rey Merodio works with the project Communities of Hospitality at Centro Astalli, at the headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service – JRS in Italy. For about 40 years Centro Astalli has been engaged in activities and services, accompanying, serving and defending the rights of those arriving in Italy fleeing wars and violence and torture.